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Leonard v. Saul

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

September 20, 2019

SANDRA D. LEONARD, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s final decision denying Sandra D. Leonard’s application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq.

         I. Background

         On February 9, 2016, Leonard protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., alleging disability beginning January 22, 2016, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), past leg fracture, gastrointestinal trouble, type 2 diabetes, and carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. (Tr. 145-148, 172.) Leonard’s application was denied on March 31, 2016. (Tr. 13.) Leonard requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which took place on October 24, 2017. (Id.) Leonard was represented by non-attorney representative Tiffany Beardslee. (Id.)

         At the hearing, the ALJ heard evidence from both Leonard and an impartial vocational expert. (Id.) Leonard testified that, in addition to the disabilities she listed on her application, she also suffered from debilitating back pain caused by degenerative disk disease. (Doc. 11 at 2-5.) Leonard testified that she experienced daily pain rated as a nine out of ten. (Tr. 41.) The record contained a 2015 MRI that indicated “some disc bulges and arthritis” in Leonard’s lower back and she further testified that over-the-counter treatments, chiropractic services, and physical therapy had not brought relief. (Tr. 41-42.)

         While Beardslee was questioning Leonard about her back pain, the ALJ interjected:

ALJ: Hold on. Ms. Beardlsee, I’m looking at the filing, nothing about the back. I looked in the record, I didn’t see anything about the back. Is there a back impairment here, and if so, where in the record do we have a diagnosis of some kind of a back [impairment]? I don’t see an X-ray. Did I miss it?
REP: Exhibit 4F, page 199, there’s a lumbar spine MRI.
. . .
ALJ: Okay, but was there a-it says mild degenerative disc disease- REP: And the disc bulges. ALJ: Right, but was there a diagnosis?
. . .
REP: I’m looking-it says-it has history was low back pain and bilateral lower extremity pain with a history of fall in March 2015.
ALJ: Right. But this, this MRI was taken in June of 2015, about six months before she stopped working . . . . She just testified her pain is a level nine, nine and a half . . . . I don’t know how we can have that level pain and work for six months. . . . [A]nd then when she ...

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