Summary: 55 year old male with bilateral hip pain, neck pain, and COPD was approved under the grid rules.
Client profile: 55 year old male
Education: high school + some college, but no degree
Past work: printing press operator
Claim background: my client filed for benefits in January, 2013. A hearing was held in one of the Atlanta area hearings offices in May, 2014.
Medical background: my client had bilateral hip replacements in 2006. There were complications with the surgery and his recovery was protracted. Following the surgery he began using a cane and began experiencing chronic pain in his hips, back and legs. After returning to work as a printing machine operator in 2007, my client began experiencing shoulder and neck pain – this may have been the result of long years of heavy work combined with a changed gait.
Further, in over 25 years as a press operator my client had been exposed constantly to inks and other toxic chemical. His chronic breathing issues became more pronounced after his return to work in 2007.
The medical record in this case does document all of the medical problems alleged by my client, but the record does not document a level of severity equal to my client’s assertions.
Factors in our favor:
- the judge in our case is very reasonable and tends to approve a higher than average number of claims
- my client has a long, consistent work history
- my client’s hip and leg pain (his main issue) was consistent with his bilateral hip replacement and long recovery
- my client’s other claimed problems are consistent with his long work tenure in a printing plant
- my client is a very matter of fact person and he comes across and truthful and unassuming
- my client was over the age of 50, with no more than a high school education
Factors not in our favor:
- the medical record was not overwhelmingly supportive and referenced mild levels of impairment
- my client’s work background was skilled (although I did not expect that the vocational witness would find any transferable skills).
My strategy: I felt that this case would be appropriate for a grid rule argument as well as a functional capacity argument. As my client was 50 years old as of his alleged onset date, it appeared to me that grid rule 201.14 would apply (age 50-54, high school education, skilled work with no transferable skills). At age 55, grid rule 201.06 would kick in.
My experience has been that even a skilled worker would not have transferable skills if his work had been limited to one job in one industry (and this proved to be the case per the vocational expert’s testimony).
In the alternative, I felt that I could make a functional capacity argument by demonstrating that the cumulative effect of my client’s medical issues and the side effects of his medications would cause him to miss excess time from work.
Although the medical record did not document as severe of a level of impairment as anticipated testimony, I felt that the judge would be open to accepting my client’s testimony as being reflective of my client’s daily reality.
Hearing Report: the hearing was scheduled for 9am and when I arrived at the hearing office my client has his brother (driver) were both there. My client seemed to be in pain and he confirmed that he had a bad headache and that he was already uncomfortable remaining seated. I observed that he stood up several times to walk around and he seemed stiff and uncomfortable.
The hearing started about 20 minutes late and I saw the judge observe my client walking stiffly and with discomfort into the hearing room. After dispensing with preliminary matters, the judge asked me for an opening statement. I had originally planned to write a pre-hearing brief in this case but I decided not to because I felt that the medical evidence was not quite strong enough, but I was able to use my draft brief as an outline for a very thorough opening statement.
I noted to the judge that I felt that grid rule 201.14 would apply and I saw the judge nod. After I finished my opening the judge asked me if I had any objection to his questioning the vocational witness about my client’s past work. The VE testified that my client’s past work was that of a cylinder press operator (DOT 651.362-010) which requires medium strength and is a skilled job. She also testified that there were no transferable skills to sedentary or light work.
The judge then turned to me and stated that he was most interested in learning about problems, if any, my client had during the year between his rehab from hip surgery and his termination from employment. This said to me that the judge was strongly considering my grid rule argument.
I asked my client a number of questions about his work performance during the year he worked after surgery rehab. He testified that he had a great deal of trouble performing his job, that he missed many days and that his co-workers helped him perform his job. He stated that his employer was very generous in making a variety of accommodations but by mid-2008 he and his supervisor me and agreed that he was no longer able to perform the print press operations job.
I asked a few more questions about some of the other impairments and finished my direct examination.
The judge stated that he had no questions for the vocational witness and that he had enough information to render a decision. The hearing was thereafter closed.
Conclusions: the judge will approve this case based on the grid rule argument. We were able to show that my client’s work capacity was limited to sedentary work or less, thus qualifying him for disability based on the grid rules.