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Whittemore v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

September 19, 2019

WILLIAM A. WHITTEMORE Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER H. STEGER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         This action was timely instituted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying William A. Whittemore's ("Plaintiff") claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. Plaintiff seeks benefits primarily on the basis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), degenerative disc disease (DDD), diabetes, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and plantar fasciitis. [Doc. 13, Pl.'s br. at 2]. The parties have consented to entry of final judgment by the United States Magistrate Judge under the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), with any appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [Doc. 15].

         Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 12] and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 16] are pending. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's Motion [Doc. 12] and DENY Defendant's Motion [Doc. 16]. Accordingly, the Court will REVERSE the Commissioner's decision and REMAND for an award of benefits as of February 26, 2016.

         II. Background

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff requests a review of the Commissioner's final decision, dated December 6, 2017 [Tr. 12-21], denying him benefits. Prior to the current claim, Plaintiff had filed an earlier application for SSI on July 23, 2012. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ronald J. Feibus granted Plaintiff a closed period of disability in his decision dated September 25, 2014. [Tr. 123-132]. In granting Plaintiff disability from December 16, 2012, through August 1, 2013, ALJ Feibus found Plaintiff was capable of less than sedentary work. ALJ Feibus further concluded that, as of August 2, 2013, Plaintiff's condition had improved so that he was capable of sedentary work-a finding which meant Plaintiff was not disabled as of August 2, 2013. [Tr. 131-132].

         On February 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed the current application for SSI alleging disability commencing on February 26, 2016. This claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Following a hearing on August 29, 2017, ALJ Angela Saindon denied Plaintiff's claim in her December 6, 2017, decision. The Appeals Council denied review, and ALJ Saindon's decision became the Commissioner's decision subject to review by this Court. This action followed.

         B. Facts

         Plaintiff was 50 years old at the time of his alleged onset date of disability-February 26, 2016-making him an individual "closely approaching advanced age." 20 CFR 416.963(b). He has a GED and no past relevant work. ALJ Feibus and ALJ Saindon reviewed in detail the medical evidence in the administrative record, and the Court incorporates those reviews herein. The Court will discuss the evidence as is necessary to address the issues in this case.

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ made the following findings which are relevant to this review:

• The claimant has the following severe impairments: bilateral moderate hearing impairment; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); degenerative disc disease status post L4-L5 fusion and decompressive laminectomy; gastrointestinal dysfunction status post removal of nine feet of the small bowel in 2012; type II diabetes mellitus, uncontrolled; obesity and polysubstance abuse, in remission, by history (20 CFR 416.920(C)). [Tr. 14].
• Plaintiff does not have an impairment or impairments which meets one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [Tr. 15].
• Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. He can have occasional exposure to extreme heat, cold, dusts, gases, fumes, odors or other pulmonary irritants and hazards. The claimant is limited to work within a work setting of moderate noise as that term is defined in the Dictionary of ...

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