United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
RONALD H. FREEMAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.
Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge
Plaintiff, Ronald H. Freeman (“Freeman”) has filed this action seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for social security disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
Disability benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and “insured, ” that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirement of being insured is commonly referred to as the “date last insured.” Freeman met the insured status requirements through at least December 31, 2016. Tr. 17.
Freeman protectively filed his application for DIB on August 7, 2012. Tr. 114-17. Freeman claims that he became disabled on October 26, 2011. Tr. 164. Freeman has been diagnosed with several impairments, including psoriatic arthritis, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrom, carpel tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis in his knees, diabetes, depression, obesity, high cholesterol, allergies, and bilateral cataracts. Tr. 18. On November 15, 2012, Freeman’s application was initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination. Tr. 87.
On February 5, 2013, Freeman requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 97. The ALJ conducted a hearing on February 12, 2014, where Freeman was represented by counsel. Tr. 41-79. On March 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Freeman’s application. Tr. 12-24. On June 24, 2014, the Appeals Council declined to grant a review. Tr. 1-11. Freeman filed a complaint before this Court on August 12, 2014. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and this case became ripe for disposition on April 21, 2015.
Freeman appeals the ALJ’s decision on two grounds: (1) the ALJ failed to properly assess all of the relevant facts before making a disability finding, and (2) the ALJ improperly determined that Freeman had no limitations from his upper extremities or sleep impairments. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is vacated and remanded for further proceedings.
II. Statement of Relevant Facts
Freeman is 63 years of age, graduated high school and attended college for one year but did obtain a degree or certification. Tr. 49. He trained as an auto mechanic in 1973, but did not work in that field. Id. Freeman has had past relevant work as a customer relations coordinator for a soda company from June 1981 until February 1999, as a human resource manager for a nursing home from March 1999 until January 2011, and briefly as a machine operator in October 2011. Tr. 134, 158, 182-83. Freeman reported that he lived with a friend, that he remained able to visit his stepmother daily, prepared simple meals, did his laundry, mowed the grass on a riding mower, walked his dog three blocks daily, shopped, handled his finances, went to church weekly, and gave sermons. Tr. 48, 63-66, 145-52. Freeman collected unemployment compensation, (“UC”) after his alleged disability onset date until the end of June 2012. Tr. 50. Freeman testified that during that time period, he applied for jobs in human resources and retail, went on one interview, but was not offered the position. Tr. 50-51.
A. Freeman’s Physical Impairments
On October 5, 2011, Freeman saw Brian A. Delvecchio, D.O., for osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Tr. 591. Since his last visit, Freeman was doing well overall from a skin/joint standpoint while on Methotrexate. Id. Freeman was seeing an orthopedist for a left knee internal derangement and moderate-to-severe joint space narrowing. Id. Freeman had also had a series of Euflexxa injections in his knee but the benefits according to Freeman, were marginal at best. Id. He also reported that subsequent intra-articular steroid injections he had received helped to reduce his knee pain. Id. Freeman was also taking Tramadol occasionally for the knee pain and this was proving to be “quite effective.” Id. After conducting a physical and a musculoskeletal examination of which the findings were normal, Dr. Delvecchio continued the Methotrexate treatment for Freeman’s psoriatic arthritis. Tr. 592.
Ten months later on August 6, 2012, Freeman followed up with Dr. Delvecchio. Tr. 613-15. Freeman noted some right wrist pain and denied any recent injury or trauma to the area. Tr. 613. On a musculoskeletal examination, Freeman was tender in the right wrist radial area. Tr. 614. Dr. Delvecchio then injected Freeman’s right wrist with Depomedrol. Id.
On January 3, 2013, x-rays were taken of Freeman’s knees. Tr. 939-40. The right knee x-ray showed lateral and patellofemoral compartment degenerative changes, which showed no significant change from x-rays taken previously in December 2009. Tr. 940. The left knee x-ray also showed tricompartmental degenerative changes that were similar to the x-rays taken in December 2009. Tr. 940.
Freeman next saw Dr. Delvecchio on January 29, 2013. Tr. 1009. His physical and musculoskeletal examination was normal, with no tender or swollen joints. Tr. 1011. There was no evidence of active inflammatory arthritis and Freeman described his pain level as a four out of ten. Tr. 1011. An MRI taken of Freeman’s right wrist was also examined and showed a number of erosions which were consistent with Freeman’s history of psoriatic arthritis. Tr. 943. On February 6, 2013, Dr. Delvecchio filled a Department of Public Welfare form on Freeman’s behalf. Tr. 943-44. He opined that based on objective medical tests and Freeman’s medical history, Freeman was temporarily disabled from March 1, 2013 to March 1, 2014. Id. Freeman also received a Depomedrol injection and completed a series of Synovisc injections in both knees on February 11, 2013. Tr. 987, 1005, 1008.
On April 16, 2013, Freeman saw Daniel R. Feldman, M.D. for a two-month follow-up visit. Tr. 1004. Freeman reported decreased knee pain after the injections, but complained that his immobility continued. Tr. 1004. They discussed the possibility of a total knee replacement “TKR” but Freeman ...