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Fabrio v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

October 1, 2001

ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.



         Plaintiff Kimberly Fabrio seeks review of the decision by Defendant Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul denying her application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act. Because the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the decision to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial of Plaintiff's application.

         I. Background and Procedural History

          In November 2015, Plaintiff, who was born on August 3, 1965, filed an application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging that she became disabled on February 1, 2010 due to “osteomyelitis of left ankle; torn meniscus on right knee; multiple levels of degenerative disc disease; disc extrusions in lumbar spine; depression; and anxiety.” (Tr. 65-72) The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims, and she filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 74-78, 81-83)

         In November 2017, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 29-63) In a decision dated February 23, 2018, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from February 1, 2010, the alleged onset date, through March 31, 2015, the date last insured[.]” (Tr. 15-24) Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the SSA Appeals Council, which denied review. (Tr. 1-8) Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the SSA's final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         II. Evidence Before the ALJ

         A. Hearing

         Plaintiff testified that she was fifty-two years old and had a GED and “some college, ” as well as a certificate in “medical assisting.” (Tr. 32-33) Plaintiff lived with her “adopted granddaughters, ” who were eight and thirteen years old. (Tr. 33)

         In 2014, Plaintiff worked as a CNA for Attending Angels until she injured her back lifting a patient. (Tr. 45, 49) Prior to that, Plaintiff worked various temporary services jobs for short periods of time because “that's how my jobs go because I just can't do it.” (Tr. 45-46) Plaintiff explained that her pain and resulting attendance problems caused her to leave jobs at several factories, a nursery, and the Department of Corrections. (Tr. 46-48)

         Plaintiff stated that she was first diagnosed with osteomyelitis when she was five years old “and ever since then I've been struggling with pain[.]” (Tr. 34) The osteomyelitis affected her left ankle but “it kind of messed up through the years all my other parts of my body with my work I did.” (Tr. 34)

         In addition to her left ankle, Plaintiff experienced pain in her knees, hips, and back. (Id.) Plaintiff's back hurt “all the time[.]” (Tr. 49) In regard to her right knee, Plaintiff testified that, in 2013, an orthopedic surgeon recommended surgery for a torn meniscus, but another doctor, who provided a second opinion, informed her that surgery “wasn't really going to help me that much.” (Tr. 50) An orthopedic surgeon recently recommended Plaintiff undergo right knee injections, but she declined because she was “[s]cared.” (Tr. 37)

         In regard to her mental impairments, Plaintiff testified that she had “anxiety, depression issues…[a] long time.” (Tr. 52) Plaintiff explained “I get worked up about things” and “I cry a lot.” (Tr. 53) Plaintiff also had difficulty concentrating, staying on task, and following instructions. (Tr. 54-55)

         Plaintiff's primary care physician, Dr. Rose, treated her pain and her mental health symptoms. (Tr. 34-35) Plaintiff testified that she had been taking fluoxetine since 2010 and Norco since 2014. (Tr. 34-35) She also took Ambien, Lisinopril, hydrochlorothiazide, and metformin. (Tr. 35, 38) Plaintiff stated that her pain medication made her feel “tired, a little, you know, light-headed, loopy” and caused “stomach problems, ” and fluoxetine made her “a little drowsy.” (Tr. 36) Plaintiff expressed concern that her pain medications were losing their effectiveness. (Id.)

         Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with a crutch and stated that she had been using it “[o]ff and on since I was five years old. I have a wheelchair also, and it gets to the point where I have to use that at home.” (Tr. 38-39) In addition, Plaintiff had “like an office chair with wheels so I can roll and do my dishes, or do some cooking.” (Tr. 39) Plaintiff had been wearing a brace on her right knee for four years” and had “several ace bandages I wear on my ankle when it gets to the point to where I have to crawl, or something, where I can't walk for support, I guess.” (Tr. 39)

         Plaintiff was unable to tie her shoes and used a bench when she showered. (Tr. 40) Plaintiff testified that she was able to stand “maybe 15 minutes before I have to sit down” and “it's hard to get back up and be on my feet.” (Id.) Plaintiff could sit “[a]t the most 20 minutes” and she was “in pain all the time…but then it gets where I can't sit anymore, I have to go lay down on my bed.” (Tr. 41) Plaintiff was able to do laundry and her granddaughters helped fold clothes. (Id.) Plaintiff could go to the grocery store “some of the time, and when I do, I grab a cart, and I use it as a walker….” (Id.) The heaviest item Plaintiff could lift was “at least a gallon” of liquid detergent. (Tr. 42) Plaintiff enjoyed cooking, but she spent most of her time in her nightgown watching television. (Tr. 41, 43)

         A vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 56-62) The ALJ asked the vocational expert to consider a hypothetical individual with Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience as Plaintiff that could:

[l]ift 20 pounds on occasion, and ten pounds frequently, and could stand/or walk about six out of eight hours with normal breaks, and could sit about six. And assume that the person should avoid more than occasional use of the bilateral lower extremities to operate foot controls, and that the person could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or work at unprotected dangerous heights, and around unprotected dangerous machinery….The person would be limited to occasional stoop, kneel, crouch, and, say, -- let's say avoid kneeling, crawling.
Let's say the person would be limited to simple and/or repetitive work that didn't require close interaction with the public, and by that, I mean avoid jobs where the primary duty was to meet and greet the public such as customer service, or retail sales, things of that nature. And also no close interaction with coworkers such as a need to get together with coworkers to determine work duties, work processes, work locations, work tools, things of that nature.

(Tr. 59-60) The vocational expert stated that the hypothetical individual could not perform Plaintiff's past relevant work, but could perform the jobs of stock checker and routing clerk. (Tr. 61) When the ALJ limited the same hypothetical individual to sedentary work, “which would be a maximum lift of ten pounds, and a maximum stand and/or walk of about two out of eight hours with normal breaks, ” the vocational expert testified that ...

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