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Arnold v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 13, 2015



MONA K. MAJZOUB, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Lorn Jeffrey Arnold seeks judicial review of Defendant the Commissioner of Social Security's determination that he is not entitled to Social Security benefits for his physical impairments under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Docket no. 1.) Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 17) and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 20). Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's Motion. (Docket no. 21.) The motions have been referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). (Docket no. 4.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with a hearing pursuant to E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2), and issues this Report and Recommendation.


For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 17) should be DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 20) should be GRANTED.


Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income with a protective filing date of April 4, 2011, alleging that he had been disabled since November 15, 2009, due to the following severe impairments: irregularities of the patella of the right knee, insulin dependent diabetes mellitus II with peripheral neuropathy, degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine, and back pain. ( See TR 16, 18.) The Social Security Administration denied benefits. (TR 16.) Plaintiff requested a de novo hearing, which was held on January 26, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) David A. Mason, Jr., who subsequently found that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because he was capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (TR 16-26.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision (TR 1), and Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review. The parties then filed their instant Motions.


A. Plaintiff's Testimony

Plaintiff was 53 years old at the time of the administrative hearing and 51 years old at the time of alleged onset. (TR 25, 40.) At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was divorced and lived alone in a single family home. (TR 41.) He testified that he had completed high school and had also received special training in heating and cooling. (TR 48, 150.) Plaintiff testified that in November 2009, he collapsed while at work because of low blood sugar. (TR 35-36.) Plaintiff went on to testify that after he collapsed, he continued to call into work every morning for his work assignments as he had previously done; however, each day he was told that there was no work for him. (TR 36.) Although he was never officially terminated, Plaintiff stated that after two weeks went by without receiving a work assignment, he assumed that he had been let go. ( Id. ) Plaintiff also testified that after he collapsed, and because of problems with his feet and knees, he was afraid to climb a ladder and get on a roof. (TR 37.) As a result of this fear, Plaintiff said he felt that he was unable to perform his past work. (TR 36-37.) Plaintiff also stated that he had not looked for work any place else or looked for any other types of work. (TR 37.)

In addition to the problems with his feet and knees, Plaintiff is also diabetic. (TR 300.) Plaintiff testified that because of financial problems, he had difficulty affording the medications necessary to properly regulate his blood sugar levels. (TR 38-39.) Plaintiff admittedly did not always take his medicine as prescribed and had passed out on at least two separate occasions due to low blood sugar levels. (TR 36-38, 42, 56.) Also, as a consequence of passing out while driving, Plaintiff lost his driver's license in 2007. (TR 41-42.) During the hearing, Plaintiff told the ALJ that he was currently paying for the medication he needed to treat his diabetes by borrowing money from his mother. (TR 48.) Plaintiff also testified that he was not experiencing any side effects from his current medications. (TR 44.)

Plaintiff testified that he was currently experiencing pain in his feet, knees, both shoulders, and his back. (TR 44, 49.) When asked by the ALJ, Plaintiff stated that standing for prolonged periods of time aggravated the problems in his feet and knees. (TR 45-46.) He testified that after an hour of standing he would have to sit down to relieve the pain in his feet. (TR 48-49.) Plaintiff also told the ALJ that his knee pain increased anytime he bent them, and the pain was reduced by walking. (TR 46.) Plaintiff told the ALJ that he could walk approximately a half a block before he began to have problems with his feet. (TR 48.) Plaintiff also testified that he had problems walking up stairs and needed to use the hand rails; however, going down stairs was not as difficult. (TR 51.) Plaintiff testified that his shoulder pain increased whenever there was pressure on them or when he raised his arms above his head. (TR 45, 46.) When the ALJ asked how much Plaintiff was able to comfortably lift, he answered ten to fifteen pounds. (TR 50.) Plaintiff also told the ALJ that if he sits for longer than fifteen to twenty minutes, his back would bother him. (TR 49.) Finally, in addition to the joint pain, Plaintiff stated that he had experienced numbness and lost the dexterity in his hands, which made it difficult to feel and hold things. (TR 52, 57.) Plaintiff told the ALJ that when his hands get cold he cannot move them. (TR 52.)

When asked about his ability to do housework, Plaintiff testified that he could dress and bathe himself, that he did his own cooking, went grocery shopping by himself, washed his own dishes, did laundry, and took out the garbage, all on a regular basis. (TR 46-47.) Plaintiff also testified that he regularly swept the floor. (TR 47.) Plaintiff further testified that he was able to maintain his home's yardwork by mowing the lawn every two weeks with a push mower and operating a snowblower in the winter. (TR 47, 60-61.)

When the ALJ asked Plaintiff to describe a normal day, Plaintiff stated that he typically woke up around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. and watched television all day. (TR 47-48.) Plaintiff then testified that on average, he had one to two good days for every bad day. (TR 58.) On good days, Plaintiff said that he was able to walk with less pain and had less difficulties with his shoulders, although his hands and feet still bothered him. ( Id. ) Plaintiff testified that on bad days, his feet hurt so much that he spent most of the day in bed, only getting up to use the bathroom. (TR 58-59.)

Plaintiff's attorney asked him if he could perform a job where he had to stand six out of eight hours of a day. (TR 59.) Plaintiff responded that he did not think that he would be able to perform that type of job. ( Id. ) Plaintiff went on to testify that after standing for an hour, he would need to sit down for ten to fifteen minutes to relieve his foot pain. (TR 59-60.) Plaintiff elaborated that after sitting down for ten to fifteen minutes, he would be able to stand again; however, the length of time that he would be able to stand without sitting would grow shorter and shorter after each rest. (TR 60.)

B. Medical Record

Plaintiff (docket no. 17 at 6-9), Defendant (docket no. 20 at 5-11), and the ALJ (TR 21-24) each set out a factual background related to Plaintiff's medical record. The Court finds that there are no significant inconsistencies between the three accounts; thus, the Court will incorporate them by reference herein. The undersigned has, however, conducted an independent review of Plaintiff's medical record and will include comments and citations as necessary throughout this Report and Recommendation.

C. The Vocational Expert

The ALJ first asked the VE to consider a hypothetical person of Plaintiff's age, education, and vocational experience, who is able to perform a full range of light work with the following limitations:

[T]his individual is limited to frequent foot controls bilaterally, occasional stooping, crouching, kneeling, crawling; frequent ramps and stairs, no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, frequently balance, no concentrated exposure to moving machinery or unprotected heights. Also add no cold temperature extremes.

(TR 61.) When asked, the VE stated that there was work that this hypothetical person could perform, such as work as a cashier or an inspector and that 54, 000 of these jobs existed in Southeast Michigan and twice that number existed in the entire state. (TR 61-62.)

The ALJ then asked the VE to assume that this same individual required a sit/stand option where he or she could alternate between standing for up to one hour at a time and sitting for up to fifteen minutes at a time. (TR 62.) The ALJ asked the VE if such a person could work in the identified positions. ( Id. ) The VE testified that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) does not account for a sit/stand option, but based on her professional experience, such an individual could still perform both jobs, although the number of opportunities would be limited to 13, 000. (TR 62, 63.) The VE also testified that there would be additional jobs available as a small products assembler, with 6, 000 of these jobs existing in Southeast Michigan and twice that number existing in the entire state. (TR 62.)

The ALJ also asked the VE to assume that the same individual was limited to occasional overhead reaching. ( Id. ) The VE testified that an individual with this additional limitation would have the same job ...

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