Garland v. Shalala

Decision Date05 March 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94-6647,94-6647
Citation78 F.3d 584,1996 WL 99809
PartiesNOTICE: Sixth Circuit Rule 24(c) states that citation of unpublished dispositions is disfavored except for establishing res judicata, estoppel, or the law of the case and requires service of copies of cited unpublished dispositions of the Sixth Circuit. Silas R. GARLAND, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Donna E. SHALALA, Secretary of Health and Human Services Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Before: MARTIN and RYAN, Circuit Judges; and KATZ, District Judge. *

RYAN, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff, Silas Garland, applied for Social Security Disability Benefits on March 11, 1983, claiming disability onset as of November 1, 1981, due to disabling pain caused by migratory polyarthritis. His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Following an administrative hearing, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision finding that Garland had been disabled since March 1, 1983, but not prior thereto. The Appeals Council denied review, and the district court upheld the Secretary's decision.

In 1991, Garland was notified that he was a class member under Samuels v. Heckler, 668 F.Supp. 656 (W.D.Tenn.1986), and was entitled to have his claim readjudicated. Following a second administrative hearing, the ALJ denied Garland's application for disability insurance benefits, and the district court affirmed the Secretary's decision. Garland now appeals, claiming that the Secretary's denial of his application is not supported by substantial evidence. We find that the record does not contain substantial evidence to support the denial of Garland's claim and reverse with instructions that plaintiff be awarded disability insurance benefits.

I.
A.

To demonstrate why we think there is not substantial evidence to support the Secretary's denial of benefits, it is necessary that we set out, at length, the evidence details of Garland's extensive medical history. Garland was fifty-five years old when he filed his application for benefits. He has an eighth grade education and a limited ability to read. He cannot read a newspaper, and his wife generally reads to him any correspondence directed to his attention.

Garland has a well-documented work history. He worked in construction most of his life as a carpenter, pipefitter, and as a heavy equipment operator. In 1968, he joined the Tennessee Valley Authority as a truck driver, and was laid off in 1972. He later worked for the Lawrence County Highway Department running a tractor vater for almost two years. He had to quit his job with the highway department because his legs would "just give away" on him and he needed the use of both of them to maneuver the brakes in the truck. After quitting this job, he started "logging," an activity that he undertook off and on throughout his work history. He was a self-employed logger between 1972 and 1981, at which time he alleges he became disabled.

The medical history reveals that Garland's medical problems began to be officially documented in April 1974, when he was admitted to the hospital due to pain in his back. Hospital records show that Dr. V.H. Crowder, Jr. examined Garland and diagnosed osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine with degenerative disc disease. Dr. Crowder found that Garland had a "little" pain when he moved his legs, limitation in motion of his back, and muscle spasms in the lumbar region. It was his opinion that Garland was at this time "disabled." The radiologist, Dr. Lawrence R. Nickell, confirmed Dr. Crowder's diagnosis, finding an L-4, L-5 intervertebral disc disease with secondary osteoarthritis.

Garland's attending physician, Dr. Laurence B. Molloy, first examined him in June 1974. Two months later, in August 1974, he diagnosed the plaintiff with having sciatic root compression, probably due to a herniated intervertebral disc. Garland complained of continuing and consistent pain, so Dr. Molloy referred him to an orthopaedic surgeon. After considering the orthopedist's report, Dr. Molloy concluded that Garland would probably need an exploratory laminotomy for decompression purposes. Based on Garland's medical history, work history, and educational background, Dr. Molloy concluded, as Dr. Crowder had, that the plaintiff was "temporarily and totally disabled to earn a gainful living" in August 1974.

Dr. Eugene M. Regen, Jr., the orthopaedic surgeon, reported in 1974 that Garland's pain persisted in "the left lumbosacral region." His report confirmed the findings of the radiologist, stating that Garland had a "[l]ow back mechanical disorder, probably longstanding disc syndrome with local arthritic changes about it."

In October 1974, Dr. Molloy determined that Garland had developed early migratory polyarthritis. Plaintiff's pain was persistent and had not subsided despite the different medications he was taking. By December 1974, Dr. Molloy found Garland to have developed arthritis in both knee joints; and by March 1975, Garland had developed additional pain in both knee joints, in the right elbow joint and the right radiohumeral bursa, the left elbow joint, and the right shoulder. Dr. Molloy also found that Garland had a malunion of the right radius and ulna due to a poorly-healed fracture suffered in 1951; this condition prevented Garland from extending his arm beyond 160 degrees due to pain. X-rays confirmed these findings. Because of Garland's inability either to sit or to stand for long periods of time and because of the pain, Dr. Molloy concluded once again that Garland was "disabled."

Garland was seen again by Dr. Molloy in 1976 when he went to the hospital because of pain from his migrating polyarthritis, and also due to an urinary tract infection. Garland did not see Dr. Molloy again until May 1981, at which time the doctor found him to be experiencing left chest pain radicular in character, involving the left knee. The last time Dr. Molloy, who is now deceased, saw Garland was in February 1983 when plaintiff was admitted to the hospital to determine whether his arthritis had evolved into rheumatoid arthritis. Garland came to the hospital complaining of intense pain in the right elbow, right knee, ankle, shoulder, and back. During this hospital stay, Dr. Molloy found that Garland's arthritis had migrated into his back and left shoulder. The radiologist confirmed moderate degenerative arthritic changes and degenerative disc disease changes in the L-4 and L-5 level. In November 1983, Dr. Molloy again stated that Garland was totally disabled, just as he had been in March 1975, eight years earlier.

Dr. Calvin L. Calhoun, hired by the Secretary to examine Garland, largely confirmed the findings Dr. Molloy had made nine years earlier. His report indicates that Garland had polyarthropathy, possibly rheumatoid, chronic lumbosacral myositis, secondary to degenerative arthritis. Dr. Calhoun also confirmed the malunion of Garland's right forearm, and migratory polyarthritis and concluded that "[m]igration of arthritic discomfort may well limit sustained physical activity for carrying out gainful employment."

Dr. Calhoun also confirmed Garland's weak grip in his right hand, his weak knees, and that his chronic polyarthropathy had been a long-standing condition. He also confirmed that Garland's condition was not due to any recent events, but rather was a chronic condition existing for over ten years. None of Dr. Calhoun's findings were in conflict with, or contradicted by, the diagnoses made by Drs. Molloy, Crowder, Nickell, and Regen.

B.

During the administrative hearing, Garland testified that he had not seen many doctors in the period between 1976 and May 1981 because he had financial difficulties due to being unemployed and therefore could not afford to pay his doctor bills. However, after being approved for Medicaid, Garland sought medical treatment and received cortisone shots on a monthly basis.

Garland testified that he had been in pain for many years, and that his condition progressively worsened. His pain reached the point, he stated, where he had to stop logging altogether because he could no longer "do anything." He was in pain. His legs would "give out" on him. Lifting even light weight burdens would strain and hurt his back. His condition was such, as far back as 1975, that he had to hire a young man to help him log because he no longer could do it himself. And sometime before 1981, Garland had to hire a second person to assist in the logging business because he could no longer assist himself. Garland quit logging altogether in 1981.

Garland testified that he had had problems carrying any significant amount of weight due to the poorly-healed fracture in his right arm. And by November 1, 1981, the arthritis "was all over" his body: in his legs, arms, and shoulders, with the resulting pain being felt mostly in his hips and back. The pain sometimes would be sharp, but most of the time it would be "an old ache all the time." His fingers, hands, and back would swell. He slept on a heating pad, and although he took prescription medication and aspirin, "nothing seemed to help [the pain] too much."

In addition to being unable to work since prior to 1981, Garland also had to give up his favorite pastimes. Despite being an avid hunter all his life, he gave up hunting and fishing because the pain made these activities prohibitive.

Garland's wife testified at the hearing that she had seen plaintiff in pain repeatedly. She testified that after doing a "little" repair work on the children's bikes, "[Garland] wouldn't be able to get back up off the ground without crawling somewhere where he could pull himself back up."

Mrs. Garland told the ALJ that in 1977 the family had to sell the cattle they owned because the plaintiff could no longer drive the tractor, nor could he harvest corn. They also found it necessary to sell their horses because Garland could no longer care for them.

On many occasions Mrs. Garland witnessed her...

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