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Prichard v. Saul

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

September 17, 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 the final decision of Defendant Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying the application of Plaintiff Tina Prichard (“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. (the “Act”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 9). 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

         In July 2014, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, with an alleged onset date of January 10, 2013. (Tr. 14, 147-48, 211-17, 261-66). The alleged onset date was subsequently amended to July 16, 2014. (Tr. 284). Plaintiff's applications were initially denied. (Tr. 147-48). On January 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 158-63). The ALJ held a hearing on September 29, 2016. (Tr. 90-130). On July 3, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 14-28). On July 17, 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

         Plaintiff applied for disability on the basis of right arm pain, hand numbness, carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, and cervical spondylosis with myopathy. (Tr. 306). In her 2014 Function Report, Plaintiff reported that both of her hands are numb, that she cannot hold things or pick things up, and that she has pain in her right arm all the time. She noted that she could not write and her mother was helping her fill out the form. (Tr. 323). She reported that because of her hands, she cannot get on the computer or clean house. She cannot do buttons or zippers, cannot feel whether the soap is out of her hair when she showers, and has trouble shaving because the razor always falls out of her hand. (Tr. 324). She cannot prepare meals, because she cannot stir things and cannot pick up pans without dropping them. (Tr. 325). She sometimes drives short distances using her left hand. (Tr. 326). She also reported that she cannot lift anything, squat, reach, kneel, or use her hands, because her “spine is messed up.” She did not report problems with walking, standing, sitting, or any mental capabilities. (Tr. 328).

         On Plaintiff's 2014 work history report, she reported that she had worked as an inventory specialist since 2011, and she was “still there on leave.” (Tr. 315). In her Disability Report Form, she reported working full time until July 15, 2014, the day before her alleged onset date. (Tr. 306-07). She reported consistent full-time work going back to 2002. (Tr. 307).

         At the hearing before the ALJ in 2017, Plaintiff testified as follows. Plaintiff was born on December 4, 1971, and she has a tenth-grade education. (Tr. 97). She has worked in the past doing factory jobs, including a machine operating job. (Tr. 100). In 2014, she tried to go back to work for three months, in a job that involved doing inventory, standing on her feet all the time, and keying a lot. (Tr. 109-11).

         Plaintiff has pain in her neck, spine, and arm, and numbness in her hands. (Tr. 101, 105-06). She can brush her hair, but it is hard for her to shower because she cannot lift her arms above her head; if she holds them up, they get dead and start hurting. (Tr. 101-02). When she washes her hair, sometimes she does not know if she got the conditioner out, because she cannot feel it. (Tr. 105). She cannot grab anything out of a cabinet that is above her head, because she will drop it. (Tr. 120). She can grasp things, like a carton of milk, but cannot hold them. (Tr. 105). She does not trust herself to hold a coffee cup, because she so often drops things. (Tr. 105). She can dress herself, but she does not wear buttons or tying shoes, because she cannot do them. (Tr. 107). She cannot write with a pen anymore. (Tr. 122). She tries to do things like stirring a pot, but she cannot. (Tr. 103). However, she can feed herself and hold utensils, and she can make a fist. (Tr. 105-06). The ALJ pointed out that during her testimony, she was moving her arms and hand quite a lot; she stated that she tries to use her arms a lot, but they hurt. (Tr. 102-03).

         Plaintiff also reported that she cannot sit or stand very long. (Tr. 101).

         Plaintiff takes Gabapentin for pain; she does not like to take pain drugs because they knock her out and she cannot function. (Tr. 102). She testified that she gets the runaround from her doctors about her issues. (Tr. 103).

         Asked whether she needed carpal tunnel surgery, she testified that she would be willing to get carpal tunnel surgery if it would help her. (Tr. 109). She stated that her main thing was getting her neck fixed, because she cannot tip her head back or forward all the way. (Tr. 109).

         On a typical day, Plaintiff takes naps to relax her neck and tries to walk her mother's dog. (Tr. 109). Plaintiff does drive, though she does not get on the highway. (Tr. 104).

         With regard to the medical treatment records and other records, the Court adopts the facts reflected in the parties' respective statements of fact and responses. The Court will cite to specific records as needed in the discussion section below. Briefly, as set forth in the parties' statements of fact, Plaintiff complained to several doctors in 2013 of hand numbness and arm pain, which she reported caused her difficulty at work with the machine she had to hold with her hand. In March 2014, about four months prior to the alleged onset date, Plaintiff underwent surgery on her cervical spine, indicated by a history of bilateral hand numbness, mild bilateral carpal tunnel that did not respond to splint use, neck pain that was worsened by a car accident a week earlier, and pain radiating down her arms. In the months and years following her surgery, Plaintiff frequently continued to seek treatment for neck pain, arm pain, hand pain, and hand numbness from several nurse practitioners and doctors. Her treatments included medications (such as Gabapentin and NSAIDs), wrist braces, and steroid injections. Results of examinations and testing (including imaging, a myelogram, and nerve conduction testing) were mixed, with MRI findings of “moderate to severe” cervical problems, ...

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