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LaJeuness v. Saul

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

September 11, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, [1]Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying the application of Plaintiff Sharon LaJeuness (“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. (the “Act”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 5). Because I find the decision denying benefits was not supported by substantial evidence, I will reverse the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Procedural Background

         On April 24, 2015, Plaintiff applied for DIB. (Tr. 152). Her application was initially denied. (Tr. 78). On October 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 86). On July 11, 2017, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ; on the same date, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date from June 27, 1971 to June 17, 2013. (Tr. 26-63, 165). On December 26, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 7-25). On February 23, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (Tr. 148). On June 5, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6). The decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         II. Factual Background

         On July 11, 2017, Plaintiff testified at the hearing before the ALJ as follows. (Tr. 28). She was 46 years old and had a ninth-grade education. (Tr. 36). She last worked in June 2013, at Walmart; she worked there for almost nine years. (Tr. 37). She worked primarily in customer service; she was on her feet and had to lift and carry up to 50 pounds. (Tr. 38). She was stopped working because she was fired, ostensibly for taking too-long breaks; she believes she was actually fired because she was taking intermittent FMLA leave. (Tr. 38-39).

         Plaintiff is able to drive a car, cook very simple meals, and dress and bathe herself. (Tr. 50-51). She has a shower chair, and she would not be able to shower without it. (Tr. 51). She uses a motorized cart and gets a stockman or cart boy to help her at the grocery store. (Tr. 51). Her daughter comes and does most of her laundry. (Tr. 50).

         Plaintiff was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in April of 2011, by Dr. Hoffman; this mostly affects her hand, legs, and arms, but it also affects all of her joints. (Tr. 39). She drops things all the time. (Tr. 40-41). If she holds a phone for too long, her hand falls asleep. (Tr. 50). She has to sleep with a brace on her right hand, or the burning and tingling will wake her up. (Tr. 41). Her back also gets very weak, and her legs get weak if she stands for more than ten minutes. (Tr. 43). She has trouble walking a distance. (Tr. 43). She has swelling and pain in her knees. (Tr. 40). She cannot lift more than about five pounds. (Tr. 44). She also has problems sitting; if she sits for more than 30 minutes or so, her lower back and upper back hurt. (Tr. 44). Plaintiff has had quite a few different medications for the rheumatoid arthritis; she thinks her current ones are effective, but they have often been changed. (Tr. 41).

         Plaintiff also has carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 41). She had a nerve conduction study and was verbally told that she had carpal tunnel in both hands. (Tr. 42). Her doctor told her the Gabapentin should help with that, and it has. (Tr. 42). She has had some injections in her right hand. (Tr. 43). She was apprehensive about getting surgery, but testified that it might come to that. (Tr. 42).

         Plaintiff also has fibromyalgia, which causes pain in her nerves. (Tr. 44-45). On a bad day, she cannot even get out of bed, except to go to the bathroom; those days are getting more and more frequent, about four days a week. (Tr. 45). On a good day, she can sit in a chair for a while and have a friend over to sit and talk. (Tr. 46).

         Plaintiff's energy level is better since she started Adderall, but there are some days when she is still very tired. (Tr. 46-47). She sleeps well at night and usually takes a nap during the day. (Tr. 47). Plaintiff has a “horrible” short-term memory. (Tr. 47). Her doctor told her it could be caused by the fibromyalgia or by her medication. (Tr. 47). Plaintiff also testified that she sometimes has a problem thinking of what words to use. (Tr. 48). She cannot keep her focus when reading online; she usually gets distracted easily. (Tr. 48). Plaintiff also has depression and does very little socially. (Tr. 48-49). She does very little socially now. (Tr. 49).

         With regard to the medical and other evidence in the record, the Court adopts the facts as presented in the parties' respective statements of fact. The Court will cite to specific portions of the record as needed in the discussion below.

         III. Standard for Determining Disability Under the Act

         To be eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari,274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The impairment must be “of such severity that he [or she] is not only unable to do his [or her] previous work but cannot, considering his [or her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, ...

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