United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division
Decided: March 12, 2014
For Gerald D. Mitchell, Plaintiff: Charlotte Williams Hall, LEAD ATTORNEY, Charles T. Hall Law Firm, Raleigh, NC.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Michael A. Haar, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Baltimore, MD.
TERRENCE W. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross motions for judgment on the pleadings [DE 25 & 27]. For the reasons detailed below, plaintiff's motion is GRANTED and defendant's motion is DENIED. The decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED.
Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on July 1, 2010, alleging disability beginning on April 16, 2010. The applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Mr. Mitchell appeared with counsel for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) on September 19, 2011. On May 25, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying the claims at step five of the sequential evaluation process. On January 10, 2013, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Mitchell then commenced the instant action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Mr. Mitchell suffers from serious orthopedic problems in addition to a heart condition. He has received regular treatment for low back pain and bilateral knee pain since December of 2008. [Tr. 322]. In February 2010, x-rays of his knees revealed widespread, advanced degenerative narrowing with marked narrowing of the patellofemoral space with asteophyte formation in both of his knees. [Tr. 283]. His doctor diagnosed him with severe degenerative joint disease (" DJD" ) in both of his knees and he received regular steroid injections to help address the pain. [Tr. 295]. In March of 2010, he made several trips to the ER for severe left hip pain [Tr. 278-81] and on March 23, 2010, an x-ray revealed marked hip joint space narrowing with cysts in both sides of the hip joint. [Tr. 261]. These findings were characterized as advanced arthritis. [Tr. 257-62]. On May 22, 2010, Mr. Mitchell underwent an MRI of his lower back due to persistent and severe pain. The MRI revealed severe left foraminal stenosis upon the exiting nerve root at L3-L4 and severe foraminal stenosis on the right root at L4-L5. [Tr. 362]. His orthopaedist attributed his severe, constant back pain and intermittent leg pain to these abnormalities. [Tr. 374-75].
At his hearing, Mr. Mitchell testified that despite treatment he still suffered from back pain which ran down his legs. [Tr. 41]. He had trouble standing, walking, and getting up from a sitting position. He took Percocet for back pain and Naproxen for his leg pain. [Tr. 41-42]. He stated that his medication helped, but that he still felt pain. [Tr. 42]. He testified that he could only walk for about 40-50 feet before he needed a break and that he regularly used a cane. [Tr. 43]. He said that he could stand for about 4-5 minutes before he needed to sit down and that he could sit for 30-40 minutes before needing to stand up. [Tr. 44]. He could not lift over 5-10 pounds. [Tr. 44]. He sometimes had trouble sleeping because of his back pain and needed help putting his shoes on. [Tr. 45-46]. He stated that he did not do any house or yard work ...