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Hall v. Astrue

United States District Court, W.D. New York

September 30, 2014

SHAWN EDWARD HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, [1] COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

DECISION & ORDER

MARIAN W. PAYSON, Magistrate Judge.

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

Plaintiff Shawn E. Hall ("Hall") brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 13).

Currently before the Court is Hall's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket # 12). Hall requests that the Court reverse the judgment of the Commissioner and remand for calculation of benefits or for further administrative proceedings. ( Id. ). Also pending before the Court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Docket # 9). For the reasons set forth below, I hereby vacate the decision of the Commissioner and remand this claim for further administrative proceedings consistent with this decision.

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural Background

Hall applied for DIB on May 5, 2010, alleging disability since November 25, 2009 due to diabetes with neuropathy in the legs, heart arrhythmia, arthritis in the knees and legs, stomach problems, severe weight loss and a learning disability (Tr. 72, 90, 96).[2] On June 22, 2010, the Social Security Administration denied Hall's claim for disability benefits, finding that he was not disabled. (Tr. 63, 66). Hall requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Edward J. Pitts (the "ALJ"). (Tr. 35-39, 56-57). The ALJ conducted a hearing on April 19, 2011 in Forney, New York. (Tr. 1192-245). Hall was represented at the hearing by his attorney, Ida M. Comerford, Esq. (Tr. 42, 1192). In a decision dated June 15, 2011, the ALJ found that Hall was not disabled and thus was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 17-32). On September 28, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Hall's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 6-11). Hall commenced this action on November 26, 2012 seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket # 1). Hall had previously applied for benefits, which the Commissioner denied by decisions dated August 25, 1998, December 13, 2000 and May 21, 2007. (Tr. 91-92).

II. Non-Medical Evidence

Hall was born on December 22, 1963 and is now fifty years old. (Tr. 126). Hall attended high school in a special education class setting through the tenth grade, when he dropped out to support his family "because [his] father [had become] blind." (Tr. 97, 1198). Hall has since attempted, but failed to obtain his GED. (Tr. 1242).

Hall's previous work history includes employment as a diesel mechanic, a tire-retreading machine operator, and briefly as a groundskeeper. (Tr. 1199-203). From approximately 1997 through 2000, Hall worked at Main Tire Exchange "taking the tires out of the cookers." (Tr. 78-79, 98, 1199-200). In 2000, Hall returned to work at TA Operating LLC, Travel Centers of America (Tr. 79-80, 98), where he had worked prior to Main Tire Exchange. At TA Operating LLC, Hall worked as a mechanic, changing oil and tires and replacing batteries on tractor trailers. (Tr. 79-80, 1201-202). Hall remained at TA Operating LLC until late 2009. (Tr. 80, 1202-203). In June 2010, Hall was hired by the State of New York as a groundskeeper at Letchworth State Park (Tr. 86, 966), but was discharged shortly thereafter when his background check revealed a prior felony conviction (Tr. 1203). Hall has not worked since his discharge from Letchworth State Park. (Tr. 1204).

When Hall applied for disability benefits, he lived with his wife and two sons. (Tr. 72-73, 116, 1212). Hall reported that his daily activities included getting up to take medications, feeding the dogs with help from his sons (Tr. 116-17), showering and dressing himself (Tr. 1213), watching TV and occasionally attempting to help his wife wash the dishes (Tr. 1216, 1236). Hall and his wife each testified that Hall's wife does all of the family's shopping and food preparation and the vast majority of the household chores on her own. (Tr. 118-20, 1216). Hall testified that he rarely leaves the house except for medical appointments, and cannot drive or ride in a vehicle more than approximately twenty-five miles without severe pain. (Tr. 1216-17). Hall testified he wears Velcro shoes to avoid having to bend over to tie his shoes. (Tr. 1213). Hall reported that he has trouble sleeping through the night due to the pain in his back and legs and feels "strung out" and "tired" during the day. (Tr. 1231).

According to Hall, he had been diagnosed with severe stenosis of the spine and received pain management treatment from Dr. Grover. (Tr. 1205). Hall testified that he had received injections and ablation procedures to address the pain in his back that was caused by discs in his back that were in contact with his nerve endings. (Tr. 1206). According to Hall, if the ablation proved unsuccessful, he would be referred to a neurosurgeon. (Tr. 1206-207).

According to Hall, prior to the onset of his disabilities, he would go hunting and fishing approximately two to three times weekly. (Tr. 1220). Hall testified he has not been hunting since sometime in 2009 ( id. ) and went fishing just once in 2010 (Tr. 1219).[3]

Hall testified that his impairments have limited his ability to walk for distances greater than approximately twenty feet before experiencing severe pain. (Tr. 1215-16). Hall also testified he is unable to sit for more than ten to fifteen minutes at a time before experiencing pain. (Tr. 1215). According to Hall, he has trouble grabbing things due to numbness in his fingers and has dropped things "quite a bit." (Tr. 1227). Hall also reported he has "balance problems" due to numbness in his feet and falls "quite a bit." (Tr. 1227-230). According to Hall, he has a "walking stick" he uses when he is outside to help keep him "straightened up." (Tr. 1227-28).

III. Relevant Medical Evidence[4]

A. Treatment Records

1. Pre-Alleged Onset Date

In support of his disability application, Hall provided medical records to the ALJ dating from 1998. The records predating Hall's alleged disability onset date primarily focus on Hall's cardiac issues, knee issues, and diabetic care. (Tr. 143-632).

a. Dr. Witte - Primary Care

The record indicates that Tony Witte ("Witte"), MD, provided primary care treatment to Hall for twenty-six years. (Tr. 960, 1197). As Hall's primary care physician, Witte treated Hall primarily for diabetes and addressed Hall's medical concerns as they arose.[5] (Tr. 931-58).

On June 10, 2009, Witte referred Hall to Robert Capecci ("Capecci"), MD, with symptoms of a torn menicus. (Tr. 945). On June 12, 2009, Witte's records show an MRI was approved and was in the process of being reviewed. ( Id. ). On July 7, 2009, Witte examined Hall, who was reporting pain in his right foot and toe. (Tr. 944). Witte examined Hall again on July 15, 2009, noting an infection in a toe on ...


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