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Elliott v. Saul

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

September 3, 2019




         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying the application of Jeffrey A. Elliott ("Elliott") for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

         I. Background

         On July 29, 2015, Elliott filed an application for DIB (Tr. 256) and SSI (Tr. 263). The claim was initially denied on March 24, 2016. (Tr. 132-41). Elliott's request for a hearing was granted, and a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was held on October 4, 2017. (Tr. 29-71). The ALJ issued a written decision on March 14, 2018, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 7-25). On May 11, 2018, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Elliott's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1). The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000). Elliott filed this appeal on July 11, 2018. (ECF No. 1). On January 14, 2019, Elliott filed a Brief in Support of his Complaint. (ECF No. 15). The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on April 11, 2019. (ECF No. 22).

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ found that Elliott had the following severe impairments: epilepsy, major depressive disorder, and adjustment disorder. (Tr. 13). The ALJ, however, determined that Elliott did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14). The ALJ found that Elliott had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: Elliott can never climb ladders or scaffolds; Elliott must avoid all hazards of heights; Elliott can perform repetitive work according to set procedures, sequence, or pace; Elliott can perform some complex tasks (further defined as SVP 5 and below). The ALJ found that Elliott can perform past relevant work as a Refrigeration Tester because he has specialized training in heating and air conditioning and is not limited by the physical and mental demands of this work. (Tr. 18). Ultimately, the ALJ determined that Elliott is not under a disability and denied his claim for benefits.

         III. Administrative Record

         The following is a summary of relevant evidence before the ALJ.

         A. Hearing Testimony

         Elliott testified on October 4, 2017, as follows:

         Elliott is 55 years old and divorced. (Tr. 32). He has been living in a house with his sister and brother-in-law since the middle of July. (Tr. 32-33). Previously, he lived with his father until he passed away in the fall of 2009. (Tr. 33). Elliott's sister filed a claim for disability benefits as well. His brother-in-law is a musician. (Tr. 33).

         Elliott quit school in the 11th grade to work. (Tr. 34). He obtained his GED. (Tr. 34). He is right handed, 5 feet and 11 inches tall, and weighs one hundred and ninety-five pounds. (Tr. 34). He knows how to read, write, and perform simple math. (Tr. 34). His sister has a computer at home, but Elliott does not use it. (Tr. 34-35). He does not have a cell phone. (Tr. 35). He last had a phone in 2012 and previously used his ex-wife's computer. (Tr. 35). Elliott has a daughter, aged twenty-five years old, and a son, aged twenty years old. (Tr. 35). Elliott is now caught up on child support but previously was in arrears in 2012. (Tr. 35-36).

         Elliott's wages have never been garnished; his state privileges (such as driving and hunting) have never been suspended; he never served in the military. (Tr. 36). He was in jail previously on a sexual misconduct charge. (Tr. 36-37). He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation for five years. (Tr. 36-37).

         Elliott is not currently working. (Tr. 37). He is on food stamps and has Health Net. (Tr. 37). He last worked in 2011 as ajourneyman installer and service technician for Matthew Heating and Cooling, an HVAC company in St. Louis, Missouri. (Tr. 37-38). He left the HVAC company because of his seizures. (Tr. 38). He had to lift up to fifty pounds as part of his employment. (Tr. 38). He also worked for Martin Service Company, Classic Air Care, and Matter Family Holdings performing the same kinds of HVAC work and with the same fifty-pound lifting requirement. (Tr. 39). Elliott worked for Husband Corporation for twenty years. For the last three year there, Elliott was a lab technician who tested commercial refrigerators. (Tr. 39-40).

         Elliott cannot work because he has seizures. (Tr. 41-42). He was diagnosed with seizures around 2001 or 2002. (Tr. 42). He worked several years after his diagnosis, but the seizures have increased since then. (Tr. 42). He has grand mal seizures that last two and a half or three hours around three times per month. (Tr. 42). Elliott takes Keppra for his seizures. (Tr. 42). He was last hospitalized for a seizure about a month ago, and he had to got o the emergency room at Southeast Missouri Hospital. (Tr. 42). He was taking his Keppra at the time. (Tr. 42-43). Last year, Elliott had testing done by neurologist Dr. Chandra at the Raleigh Neurology Pain and Sleep Center.

         Elliott also cannot work because of his carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 43-44). On his wrists, Elliott wears soft splints that were prescribed by a neurologist. (Tr. 44). He usually only wears them in the evening. (Tr. 44).

         Elliott has varicose veins in his left leg. He has never had surgery on them, but he wears compression stockings. (Tr. 44). He has not worn the compression stockings for three years because they are expensive to replace. (Tr. 44).

         Elliott suffers from anxiety but does not currently take any medications for it. (Tr. 45).

         Elliot has sleep apnea and uses a BIPAP machine. (Tr. 45). The setting on his BIPAP machine is 16-8. (Tr. 45). He normally uses the BIPAP machine, but he has not in the last two and a half months because he is "getting relocated." (Tr. 45-46).

         Elliott was treated for depression but is not currently under a doctor's care for depression. (Tr. 46).

         Elliott takes Lisinopril for high blood pressure. (Tr. 46).

         He has never had any 24-hour testing for seizures in hospitals. (Tr. 46).

         Elliott does not recall an instance where he needed a note that stated that he could not work for purposes of his state child support obligations. (Tr. 46-47). Similarly, Elliott did not recall why the state was supposed to take his driver's license away. (Tr. 47). Elliott never saw anyone for treatment after being diagnosed with adjustment disorder with some mixed anxiety and depression. (Tr. 47).

         His medication makes him extremely tired all the time. (Tr. 48). He does not smoke. (Tr. 48). He quit using alcohol around 2007 or 2008. (Tr. 48). He last used ...

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