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Bahnmiller v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 22, 2018




         Plaintiff David Douglas Bahnmiller (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act. Both parties have filed summary judgment motions. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket #17] is GRANTED to the extent that the case is REMANDED to the administrative level for further proceedings. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket #19] is DENIED.


         Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) on March 14, 2014, alleging disability as of June 1, 2008 (Tr. 130). After the initial denial of the claim, he requested an administrative hearing, held on September 29, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan (Tr. 30). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Joy Turner presided. Plaintiff, represented by attorney Michael S. Korby testified (Tr. 35-58), as did Vocational Expert (“VE”) Harold Cynowa (Tr. 58-62). On December 15, 2015, ALJ Turner found that Plaintiff was not disabled as of the date last insured (“DLI”) for DIB of December 31, 2013 (Tr. 20-26). On September 15, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-5. Plaintiff filed for judicial review of the final decision on November 18, 2016.


         Plaintiff, born January 30, 1960, was 55 when ALJ Turner issued her decision (Tr. 26, 130). He completed high school and worked previously as a tool maker (Tr. 144). His application for benefits alleges disability resulting from arthritis and back and wrist problems (Tr. 143).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Counsel amended the alleged onset of disability date to Plaintiff's 50th birthday, January 30, 2010 (Tr. 35).

         Plaintiff then offered the following testimony:

         He was divorced with two grown children, 28 and 26 (Tr. 35). He stood 5'11" and weighed 187 pounds (Tr. 35). He had lost 20 pounds since 2008 (Tr. 35-36). He lived by himself in Dearborn Heights, Michigan (Tr. 37). He supported himself with a small pension (Tr. 37).

         He typically drove two days a week (Tr. 37). Due to right leg tightness, he avoided situations where he was required to stand for extended periods (Tr. 37). He was also uncomfortable sitting (Tr. 37). After finishing high school, he completed a toolmaker apprenticeship (Tr. 38). He was a toolmaker for his entire career (Tr. 40). His job required him to lift up to 100 pounds (Tr. 40). He enjoyed his work but was unable to do it anymore due to his inability to stand or sit for any length of time (Tr. 41). He coped by using gravity boots and massage chairs with infrared heat (Tr. 41).

         Prior to the date last insured of December 31, 2013, he received physical therapy and chiropractic treatment (Tr. 43). He had attempted to procure another job but experienced extreme discomfort sitting for even the course of the interview (Tr. 46). As of 2010, he treated his back exclusively with aspirin and putting cold and hot packs on his back (Tr. 48). He generally experienced level “eight” out of “ten” back and lower extremity pain (Tr. 48). Standing for the time required to make breakfast caused extreme pain (Tr. 49). He was limited to carrying 10 pounds on a rare basis and was unable to stand more than 15 minutes or walk for more than half a block (Tr. 49).

         On a typical day, he would groom himself, drink juice, go over to his neighbor's home, watch television, and then use a massage chair and other modalities for about 90 minutes to relieve his pain (Tr. 51). He spent the rest of the day alternating between doing chores and resting (Tr 51). He experienced sleep disturbances as a result of the pain (Tr. 52). He required multiple daytime naps due to both sleep disturbances and generalized fatigue (Tr. 52). He was able to do “a little bit of laundry” thanks to a front loader that was “up high” so he was not required to bend (Tr. 53). He traveled with a rubber chair if he anticipated that he would be required to sit for extended periods (Tr. 54). He experienced balance problems (Tr. 54). Plaintiff listened to YouTube videos on his smartphone for entertainment (Tr. 54). The back problems were originally caused by occupational overwork (Tr. 55).

         In response to questioning by his attorney, Plaintiff reiterated that chores such as shopping trips took no more than 30 minutes and that he needed rest time before and after doing the chore (Tr. 56). After doing a chore, he experienced extreme pain for the rest of the day (Tr. 56). He coped with post-chore discomfort by taking a hot bath, stretching, or using ice packs (Tr. 56). A neurological surgeon had recently recommended back surgery, noting that Plaintiff could become paralyzed or have a stroke or heart attack as a result of untreated spinal problems (Tr. 57).

         B. Medical Evidence

         1. Records Related to Plaintiff's Treatment

         In March, 2013, Plaintiff sought treatment from Ghadi G. Ghorayeb, M.D., reporting ongoing back pain and right leg numbness since 2001 (Tr. 184). He reported that he had been self-managing the pain with massage and heat (Tr. 184). He denied the use of pain medication (Tr. 184). Dr. Ghorayeb diagnosed Plaintiff with low back pain, lumbar sprain and strain, and an unspecified disc disorder (Tr. 185). An MRI from later the same month showed L5 spondylolysis with severe foramina narrowing (Tr. 187-189). Following the MRI, Dr. Ghorayeb diagnosed Plaintiff with spondylolysis with myelopathy (Tr. 190). He referred Plaintiff for physical therapy (Tr. 190). Physical therapy records note Plaintiff's report of level “five” pain on average, “three to four” at best, and “nine” at worst (Tr. 243). He characterized his pain as “tingling, ” “penetrating, ” and “numbing” (Tr. 245). The records noted that Plaintiff was unable to sit for more than five minutes or stand for more than 15 (Tr. 249).

         In November, 2013, Dr. Ghorayeb treated Plaintiff for hemorrhoids, noting “muscle aches [and] back pain” (Tr. 193). In March, 2014, Dr. Ghorayeb noted Plaintiff's report of ongoing back pain (Tr. 196). Dr. Ghorayeb referred Plaintiff to a spine specialist (Tr. 196). An MRI of the lumbar spine taken after Plaintiff sought emergency treatment showed grade 2 spondylolisthesis at “L5 over S1” (Tr. 201, 220). Roderick Claybrooks, M.D. noted that Plaintiff was unable to sit or stand for more than three minutes at a time (Tr. 204). Plaintiff reported that he had been disabled since June, 2008 (Tr. 205). Dr. Claybrooks noted that the clinical and imaging studies showed the need for surgical intervention (Tr. 206). Plaintiff reported that he was “not interested in surgery” at present (Tr. 206). In September, 2014, Plaintiff reported continued back pain and leg pain, weakness and ...

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