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Reddinger v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 18, 2019

ALEXANDER REDDINGER
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY[1]

          RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND ON THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

          Robert M. Spector United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action, filed under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security [“SSA”] denying the plaintiff disability insurance benefits [“SSDI”].

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         On January 5, 2015, the plaintiff filed an application for SSDI claiming that he has been disabled since December 29, 2014 due to a combination of medical conditions collectively referred to as “VATER Syndrome, ”[2] acute lymphoblastic leukemia, in remission, bladder dysfunction and neurogenic bladder.[3] (Certified Transcript of Administrative Proceedings, dated July 22, 2018 [“Tr.”] Tr. 216; see Tr. 226). The plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 166-69, 172-74), and on June 20, 2017, a hearing was held before ALJ Eskunder Boyd at which the plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 112-42). Ten days later, on June 30, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the plaintiff's claim for benefits (Tr. 13-25), and, on July 10, 2017, the plaintiff filed a request for review of the hearing decision. (Tr. 6; see Tr. 8-9). On April 4, 2018, the Appeals Council denied the request, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4).

         On June 4, 2018, the plaintiff filed his complaint in this pending action (Doc. No. 1), and on June 14, 2018, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge, and this case was transferred to this Magistrate Judge. (Doc. No. 15). On August 10, 2018, the defendant filed her answer and the administrative transcript, dated July 22, 2018. (Doc. No. 15). On October 9, 2018, the plaintiff filed his Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 19), with Statement of Material Facts (Doc. No. 20), and brief in support (Doc. No. 21 [“Pl.'s Mem.”]). On December 10, 2018, the defendant filed her Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 22), and brief in support (Doc. No. 22-1 [“Def.'s Mem.”]). On December 19, 2018, the plaintiff filed a reply brief. (Doc. No. 23).

         For the reasons stated below, the plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 19) is granted in large part such that this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Ruling, and the defendant's Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 22) is denied in large part and granted in limited part.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. MEDICAL RECORD

         The Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the plaintiff's medical history, which is discussed in the Stipulation of Facts (Doc. No. 20). Though the Court has reviewed the entirety of the medical record, it cites only the portions of the record that are necessary to explain this decision.

         B. HEARING TESTIMONY AND NON-MEDICAL EVIDENCE

         On the date of the hearing in June 2017, the plaintiff was 23 years old, and he was living with his mother. (Tr. 87, 90, 118). The plaintiff held seasonal jobs from September 2012 through December 2014 as an electrician apprentice, stock clerk, delivery helper, and delivery driver. (Tr. 95; see Tr. 96-101). The plaintiff explained that his last job, as an electrician apprentice, ended because the plaintiff had to take off so much time. (Tr. 121). In 2016, the plaintiff worked briefly at Vitamin World, but he “had too many accidents” and had to take “a lot of time off work.” (Tr. 129). He worked for a temporary placement service but had to stop working when he was hospitalized with a bladder infection. (Tr. 130). Additionally, he worked briefly for a collection agency, but had an “accident in [his] pants and . . . walked home.” (Tr. 131).

         The plaintiff described his condition as a “life long illness, that became an issue once [he was] out of school and entering the workforce. [He does] not have bowel control, now [his] bladder is failing. [He] need[s] to be close to a rest room at all times. [He has] accidents.” (Tr. 88). His daily routine includes irrigating his stool, which takes about an hour-and-a-half to two hours, and cleaning a catheter, which he does every one-to-three hours. (Tr. 127). The irrigation involves “a lot of solutions and supplies and tubes[, ]” so it is something that the plaintiff must do at home. (Tr. 131-32). If he has an accident during the day, which he said he has “[f]requently[, ]” he must irrigate again. (Tr. 126, 132).

         As a result of having to use a catheter, the plaintiff gets “a lot of infections in [his] bladder.” (Tr. 128). In 2015, he underwent surgery that improved his ability to empty his bladder completely. (Tr. 126).

         In addition to his incontinence issues, the plaintiff reported that he is limited by his “back issues[.]” (Tr. 88). His “back issues do not allow [him] to do the climbing, crawling, bending[, or] lifting involved in any of the jobs [he] . . . attempted.” (Tr. 88). According to the plaintiff, he would like to return to school and “perhaps pursue a degree that would allow [him] a career [he] could do from home.” (Tr. 91).

         The vocational expert testified that an individual limited to light work, who can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop and crouch, but can never kneel or crawl, could not perform the past work performed by the plaintiff. (Tr. 134). An individual with those limitations, however, could perform the work of a laundry worker, a production assembler, or a small parts assembler. (Tr. 134-35). If such a person also took the normal breaks of a fifteen-minute morning break, a half hour lunch break, and a fifteen-minute afternoon break, such a person could perform those jobs. (Tr. 135-36). If a person needed a two-to-three-minute break every three hours, in addition to the customary break periods, that would be an “accommodation” that would not impact the person's overall ability to perform a certain job. (Tr. 136). If a person was subject to “unpredictable breaks or absences[, ]” the job would not be affected if the break was only one or two minutes, but, if the person was off-task for ten percent of the time or his “productivity got [ten] percent or more below the expected norm because of these incidences, he would be terminated fairly quickly[.]” (Tr. 137). Additionally, work would be precluded if, in addition to being absent two days or more, the person was more than an hour late or needed to leave work an hour or more early, twice each month. (Tr. 139).

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Following the five-step evaluation process, [5] the ALJ found that the plaintiff met the insured status requirements through June 30, 2016 (Tr. 18), and that the plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of December 29, 2014, through his date last insured of June 30, 2016. (Tr. 19, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq.).

         At step two, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff had the severe impairments of spinal scoliosis, VATER syndrome, status post cystourethroscopy with placement of suprapubic tube, and neurogenic bladder[6] (Tr. 19, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)), but that the plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 19-20, citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). Specifically, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff's back condition did not meet Listing 1.04 (Disorders of the Spine), and that the plaintiff's VATER syndrome, status post cystourethroscopy with placement of suprapubic tube and neurogenic bladder, did not meet Listing 5.06 (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). (Tr. 19).

         At step three, the ALJ found that, “[a]fter careful consideration of the entire record, ” the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity [“RFC”] to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except he could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; he was limited to occasionally climbing stairs and ramps, balancing, stooping and crouching; and, he should never kneel or crawl. (Tr. 20). Additionally, the ALJ stated that the plaintiff required one break every three hours, lasting two-to-three-minutes. (Tr. 20).

         The ALJ concluded that, through his date last insured, the plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 23, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1565), but there were jobs that existed in significant numbers that the plaintiff could have performed, including the job of a laundry worker, production assembler, and small parts assembler. (Tr. 24-25). Accordingly, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from December ...


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