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Boyd v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

March 21, 2018

GAYLON BOYD, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of Defendant's final decision denying Plaintiffs applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural History

         On July 7, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning March 1, 2015 due to stage 4 COPD; asthma; bronchitis; back problems; frequent urination; carpel tunnel syndrome in both hands; arthritis in shoulders; high blood pressure; and insomnia. (Tr. 72, 143-59) Plaintiffs claims were denied on December 1, 2015, and Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 48-76, 81-82) On June 16, 2016, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 25-47) In a decision dated July 26, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from March 1, 2015 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 9-20) On September 9, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. (Tr. 1-3) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Evidence Before the ALJ

         At the June 16, 2016 hearing, Plaintiff was represented by counsel, who gave an opening statement. Counsel stated that no medical source statements were provided in the case; however, Plaintiff was capable of less than the full range of sedentary work due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and arthritis. Upon questioning by the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that he lived in a mobile home with his wife, two of his daughters, and his grand-baby. Plaintiff had a tenth grade education. He previously worked as a construction worker and an assembly line worker. He testified that his construction jobs mainly involved concrete work, where he lifted 100 pounds. His assembly line jobs required lifting about 25 pounds. (Tr. 31-33)

         Plaintiff stated that he was unable to return to his construction or assembly line jobs because he could not stand for very long. He was unable to lift with or raise his left arm without pain. In addition, he needed to use the bathroom every 15 to 20 minutes due to prostate problems. He had trouble breathing in the heat. Plaintiff testified that his disability onset date of March 1, 2015 coincided with the date he was laid off because of his breathing, back, and shoulder problems. Plaintiff stated that he was unable to do any work due to his disability and inability to read or write. He testified that his doctor prescribed inhalers and would not let Plaintiff return to work. (Tr. 34-35)

         Plaintiff stated that he quit smoking two weeks before the hearing. He previously smoked up to 2 '/2 packs of cigarettes a day but began to slowly reduce the number of daily cigarettes until he quit. Plaintiff testified that he received income from his wife's disability stemming from back surgery. (Tr. 35-36)

         Plaintiffs attorney also questioned Plaintiff about his prior work and his impairments. Plaintiff stated that he was unable to perform construction work because he could not breathe or lift. He was unable to perform the work he used to do, and after he was laid off, the companies never called him back. With regard to his prostate problems, Plaintiff testified that he took two medications to strengthen his prostate. Plaintiff did not have health insurance or receive Medicaid. He had a $4 plan for prescriptions. Plaintiffs medications included a muscle relaxant; Cyclobenzaprine; Flomax; Hydroxyzine; Metoprolol; Naproxen; Norco; and Prednisone. Plaintiff testified that he did not like taking Prednisone because it made him feel funny. His inhalers caused him to be jittery, shaky, and lightheaded. They also caused headaches. (Tr. 36-38)

         Plaintiff further testified that he was able to stand for 15-20 minutes before his back and legs began to hurt, causing him to sit. He was unable to lift his left arm and could not properly pick up his grand-baby. Plaintiff stated that he could lift a gallon of milk with his left arm with pain. However, he could not lift the milk over shoulder level. Plaintiff had no problem lifting with his right arm. Walking caused pain in Plaintiffs back and knees. Walking also caused shortness of breath. Plaintiff stated that he could walk 100 feet but then needed to stop and catch his breath. He had difficulty with reading and writing. (Tr. 38-40)

         Plaintiff testified that he could do dishes and help with the laundry. He was unable to push a vacuum because his back hurt. He tried to work in the garden but could only do so for a few minutes before needing to sit down. Plaintiff stated that gardening caused breathing difficulties and back pain. During the day, Plaintiff sat on his porch, drank coffee, and walked to his garden. Plaintiff stated that he had trouble with frequent urination his whole life. While working at Briggs and Stratton, Plaintiff walked off the assembly line because he was not allowed to use the bathroom. Plaintiff testified that he would be unable to perform any jobs in the national economy because he could not push carts at Walmart due to pain or work in any type of heat or humidity. The frequent need to use the bathroom also prevented him from working. (Tr. 40-42)

         A vocational expert ("VE") also testified at the hearing. The VE classified Plaintiffs past relevant work as construction worker, which was semiskilled and heavy work; and assembler, which was semiskilled and medium work. The ALJ then asked the VE to assume a hypothetical person the same age, education, and past relevant work as the Plaintiff. The individual could lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk for 6 hours in an 8-hour work day; sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour work day; push or pull with the same weight limits for lifting and carrying; avoid concentrated exposure to inhaled pulmonary irritants; avoid concentrated exposure to high temperatures and humidity; and understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and tasks. In addition, the person was unable to lift his left arm above shoulder level. The VE testified that this individual could not return to the past relevant work performed by Plaintiff. However, the hypothetical person could work in small products assembly I, collator, and small products II bench assembly positions. (Tr. 42-44)

         Plaintiffs attorney also questioned the VE and asked the VE to assume the individual would miss 2 or 3 days of work due to breathing issues and COPD. The VE testified that all jobs would be eliminated. Further, frequent urination problems would also eliminate all jobs. The ALJ left the record open for Plaintiff to obtain a medical source statement from the clinic he visited and concluded the hearing. (Tr. 44-46)

         An October 25, 2015 Function Report - Adult completed by Plaintiffs wife indicated that Plaintiff had difficulty breathing even while sitting. His inhaler made him feel shaky and lightheaded. He experienced sharp, burning pain from the middle of his back to his buttocks. During the day, Plaintiff took pain medication and used his inhaler when he woke up. If he performed any work he went very slowly because he became short of breath. Prior to his condition, Plaintiff could pour concrete and walk without losing his breath. Plaintiff coughed during the night. He had trouble bathing because he was unable to catch his breath in the shower. Plaintiff was able to prepare simple meals daily. His wife performed the cooking, however. Plaintiff could do laundry every couple of days. He was unable to perform house or yard work. Plaintiff went outside every day, and he was able to drive. He did not shop or pay bills. Plaintiff enjoyed hunting but could not do this often because he was unable to walk distances due to his breathing problems. He also enjoyed watching TV and eating dinner with his immediate family. Plaintiff did not participate in any other social activities. Plaintiff stated that his conditions affected his ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, sit, kneel, stair climb, complete tasks, and use hands. He explained that these activities caused shortness of breath and back pain. Plaintiff reported that he could not walk any distance before needing to rest for 3 to 4 minutes. He could pay attention for only 5 minutes due to pain and lack of breath. Further, Plaintiff was unable to follow written instructions. However, he could follow spoken instructions. He was able to get along with authority figures but could not handle stress or changes in his routine. (Tr. 241-48)

         In a Missouri Supplemental Questionnaire dated October 25, 2015, Plaintiff reported that his driver's license had been suspended. Plaintiffs wife stated that she believed Plaintiff had ruptured discs in his back. He was unable to walk upstairs or walk to the front door due to COPD. ...

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