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Anderson v. Saul

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

July 22, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, [1]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 April 25, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning December 5, 2013 due to a back injury (broken back and new injury); headaches from neck and spine problems; rotator cuff injury; arthritis in shoulders and hands; left ankle problems; limited education and mental ability - learning disorder; depression from pain; and inability to sleep at night because of pain and headaches. (Tr. 11, 121, 173-80) Plaintiffs claims were denied, and Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 96-117, 120-25, 128-29) On September 13, 2016, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 25-56) In a decision dated January 9, 2017, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from December 5, 2013 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 11-20) On December 26, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. (Tr. 1-3) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Evidence Before the ALJ

         At the September 13, 2016 hearing, Plaintiff appeared with counsel. Plaintiff testified that he was 53 years old and finished either the seventh or eighth grade. When he was 15 years old, Plaintiff broke his back in a car accident. He dropped out of school after the school told him he could not go to high school or graduate. (Tr. 29-30)

         Plaintiff took several heart medications including nitro, Crestor, Citalopram, Lisinopril, Carvedilol, Prozac, Mobic, Tylenol, Meloxicam, and Effi. He had a heart attack four years ago which required the placement of three stents. He testified that he was currently being treated for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. He used nitroglycerin three times in the past month but did not go to the emergency room. On one occasion he went to urgent care but was sent home. (Tr. 30-33)

         Plaintiff testified that he had been in several car accidents. After an accident in December of 2013, Plaintiff was unable to return to his work as a painter. He was treated by a chiropractor and an orthopedist and was advised to do exercises. Plaintiff had recently received an injection by Dr. Graven, who recommended surgery. (Tr. 33-35)

         Plaintiff stated that he last used alcohol about three weeks ago. He basically quit because he was an alcoholic. He testified that he last attended AA meetings in 2000 or 2001 and had last seen a psychiatrist in the 1990s. After Plaintiffs 2013 car accident, he attempted to return to work after his doctor released him. However, Plaintiff tried working for about three months before determining that he was unable to work. Plaintiff testified that he did not try to find work that involved less strenuous work than his job as a painter because his reading disability prevented him from doing much. (Tr. 35-36)

         Plaintiff last saw his cardiologist in 2013 for some tests. He applied for, but did not receive, Medicaid. He received food stamps and help from his brother. Plaintiff lived in a trailer with a roommate, and they were both responsible for performing household chores. Plaintiff did the yard work with a self-propelled push lawn mower. Plaintiff and his roommate did the shopping, but Plaintiff was the only one who drove. They cared for two dogs. Plaintiff further testified that he smoked about 15 cigarettes per day, down from three packs a day. Plaintiff took medication and performed stretches during the day to relieve pain. Plaintiffs pain was concentrated in his back and round his left sciatic nerve. (Tr. 36-40)

         During the day, Plaintiff watched cable TV when he was not performing household chores or yardwork. He had five children, and he saw his youngest children, ages 15 and 16, every other weekend. He talked to them on the phone and drove over to their house. Plaintiff also had a three-year-old grandchild. He did not participate in any other activities outside the home. (Tr. 40-41)

         Plaintiff stated that most of the day the level of his back pain was around a six or seven out often. The pain would subside when he rested in his bed. When he performed certain chores like cutting grass, his pain level was an eight or nine. Cutting the grass took about three hours because Plaintiff needed to take breaks. Washing dishes and coughing also caused his pain level to increase. Plaintiff no longer used a TENS unit. He received injections which provided a lot of relief and lasted about two weeks. However, after that time the pain in his sciatic nerve returned. Plaintiff took Tylenol and needed to lie down frequently for about 30 to 45 minutes in order to relieve pain. He also sat in a lawn chair in his bedroom. (Tr. 41-44)

         Plaintiff further testified that he would not be able to pick up a gallon of milk and move it around a table for eight hours a day because the pain would be too strong. He also stated that he needed an operation on his left hand as a result of being a painter for 35 years. When Plaintiff experienced chest pain, he took nitro and relaxed for the rest of the day. Plaintiff previously had an MRI of his back and both hips because his sciatic nerve was bothering him. However, the MRI report was not in the medical records. The ALJ agreed to leave the record open for two weeks to obtain additional records. (Tr. 44-46)

         A vocational expert ("VE") also testified at the hearing. The ALJ questioned the Plaintiff about his past work. Plaintiff stated that he worked as a painter for 37 years performing industrial and commercial painting, hanging dry wall, taping, and climbing ladders. On a typical day, he lifted and carried up and down a ladder a large container of paint weighing around 75 pounds. He also dragged a paint gun with long and heavy hose laden with steel. The VE testified that ...

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