United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
LEWIS M. BLANTON, Magistrate Judge.
This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision finding Carrie Williams' disability to have ended November 1, 2010. All matters are pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Because the final decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.
I. Procedural History
On September 8, 2004, the Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded plaintiff Carrie Williams benefits on her application for disability insurance benefits, finding plaintiff to be disabled as of July 1, 2003, because of the effects of bipolar disorder. ( See Tr. 11, 45-48.) Upon periodic review for continued entitlement to benefits, the SSA determined on November 5, 2010, that plaintiff achieved medical improvement such that she was able to perform work. The SSA determined plaintiff's disability to have ceased November 1, 2010, and, as such, plaintiff's receipt of benefits ceased in January 2011. (Tr. 41, 44, 45-48.) Upon plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on June 16, 2011, at which plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 23-40.) On August 26, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff's disability to have ended November 1, 2010. The ALJ specifically found that beginning on November 1, 2010, plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a house cleaner. (Tr. 8-22.) On September 17, 2012, upon review of additional evidence, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-5.) The ALJ's determination thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
In the instant action for judicial review, plaintiff contends that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole inasmuch as the ALJ failed to properly consider the medical opinion evidence of record and thus erred in his determination of plaintiff's RFC. Plaintiff further contends that evidence of plaintiff's activities, upon which the ALJ relied in making his RFC determination, provides an insufficient basis upon which to find plaintiff able to perform her past work. Finally, plaintiff argues that the vocational expert's testimony conflicts with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ( DOT ) and thus that the ALJ erred by relying on such testimony to find plaintiff able to perform work-related activities. Plaintiff requests that the Commissioner's final decision be reversed and that the matter be remanded for further consideration.
II. Testimonial Evidence Before the ALJ
A. Plaintiff's Testimony
At the hearing on August 26, 2011, plaintiff testified in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.
At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was thirty-three years of age. Plaintiff previously attended college for two years but did not obtain a degree. Plaintiff stands approximately five feet, six inches tall and weighs 244 pounds. Plaintiff has two children, ages five and seven. (Tr. 26, 30.)
Plaintiff testified that she worked at Wal-Mart in 1998 and 1999 as a cashier. From 1999 to 2000, plaintiff worked at Grove Furniture sewing fabric for furniture. In 2000, plaintiff sold insurance for Western and Southern Life. In 2001, plaintiff worked as a house cleaner at Cleaning by House Beautiful. From 2002 to 2003, plaintiff worked as a customer care representative at a telecommunications company. Plaintiff testified that she stopped working in 2003 when she had a baby, after which she was hospitalized for bipolar disorder. Plaintiff testified that she could not cope with stress. (Tr. 26-28, 30-31, 34-35.)
Plaintiff testified that she currently saw a psychologist once a week upon the recommendation of her treating doctor, Dr. Arain. Plaintiff testified that Dr. Arain became concerned regarding plaintiff's increased symptoms of depression, including social withdrawal, excessive sleep, and decreased interest in activities. Plaintiff testified that she also experienced episodes of mania and that her psychologist recommended that she give her credit cards, check book, and excess medication to her husband so that she would not excessively spend or take too much medication. Plaintiff testified that her manic episodes last several weeks, after which she experiences another bout of depression. Plaintiff testified that she also experienced episodes of "cutting, " whereby she would attempt to cut herself using box cutters or her fingernails. (Tr. 31-33.)
Plaintiff testified that her condition has not changed since being placed on disability. Plaintiff testified that she takes medication for her condition, which helps the "dips not be as severe, " but that the medication is not always effective. Plaintiff testified that she experiences side effects with her medication, including extreme drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, weight gain, and loss of desire. (Tr. 33-34.)
Plaintiff testified that she self-published a book in 2008. Plaintiff testified that it took her six months to actually write the book, after which it took one year to proofread. Plaintiff testified that she then hired an editor for book editing. (Tr. 29-30.) Plaintiff testified that she wrote down her ideas for the book during her manic episodes when thoughts raced through her head. (Tr. 33.)
B. Testimony of Vocational Expert
Ms. Gonzales, a vocational expert, testified at the hearing in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.
The ALJ asked Ms. Gonzales to assume an individual twenty-five years of age with no physical restrictions. The ALJ asked Ms. Gonzales to further assume the individual to be able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and non-detailed tasks. Ms. Gonzales testified that such an individual would be able to perform plaintiff's past work as a house cleaner, classified as medium and unskilled work. (Tr. 36.)
The ALJ then asked Ms. Gonzales to assume an individual with limitations as described in Dr. Arain's Medical Source Statement, dated February 21, 2011. Ms. Gonzales testified that such a person could perform plaintiff's past work as a house cleaner. (Tr. 37.)
The ALJ then asked Ms. Gonzales to assume an individual with limitations as described in Dr. Bosse's Mental RFC Questionnaire, dated May 20, 2011. Ms. Gonzales testified that such a person could not perform any of plaintiff's past relevant work or any other work in the national economy. (Tr. 37-38.)
III. Medical Records Before the ALJ
From February through December 2004, plaintiff was treated at South County Family Mental Health Center for bipolar II disorder with post-partum onset. Plaintiff repeatedly complained of mood swings, paranoia, and depression. Plaintiff was treated with individual psychotherapy sessions and multiple medications, including Lexapro, Trileptal, Risperdal, Zoloft, Topamax, Effexor, and Wellbutrin. Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scores during this period ranged from 45 to 57. (Tr. 288-334.)
Plaintiff visited Dr. Thomas Nowotny at Associates in Behavioral Health on October 6, 2005, who noted plaintiff's past mental health history to include an exacerbation of unstable mood in 2003 while post-partum. Plaintiff obtained benefit at the time with Zoloft. Plaintiff then lost her Medicaid coverage, after which she took no medication and became manic. Plaintiff reported that she was then hospitalized and treated with Risperdal, Trileptal, and Zoloft, from which she obtained benefit. Plaintiff reported that she did well and subsequently became pregnant, at which time she stopped taking medication. It was noted that plaintiff recently delivered a baby two months prior. Plaintiff reported that she had been doing well until recently. Dr. Nowotny noted that plaintiff was currently taking Zoloft. Mental status evaluation showed plaintiff to be cooperative and calm. Plaintiff was noted to have a flat affect and anxious mood. Plaintiff's speech was normal, and her thought process was intact. Plaintiff denied having any hallucinations, delusions, or suicidal or homicidal ideations. Dr. Nowotny instructed plaintiff to increase her dosage of Zoloft and to return in two to three months for follow up. (Tr. 187-90.)
Plaintiff returned to Dr. Nowotny at Behavioral Health on January 30, 2006, and reported that she stopped taking Zoloft in November 2005 because of loss of insurance. Plaintiff reported that she previously obtained the best relief from Trileptal and Bupropion. Plaintiff currently complained of fatigue. Mental status examination showed plaintiff's mood to be "up and down." Plaintiff's judgment was noted to be good, and her flow of thought was logical and sequential. Plaintiff was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. Plaintiff was prescribed Trileptal and Wellbutrin and was instructed to return in two months. (Tr. 185.)
In March 2006, Dr. Nowotny prescribed Fluoxetine in response to plaintiff's complaints of increased irritability and migraine headaches. (Tr. 184.) In August 2006, plaintiff reported that she was doing well and was active with increased socialization. (Tr. 183.) In December 2006, plaintiff reported having symptoms of depression with feelings of isolation. Dr. Nowotny instructed plaintiff to take Wellbutrin regularly and to increase her dosage of Trileptal. (Tr. 182.)
In March and September 2007, Dr. Nowotny noted plaintiff to be doing well and to have a stable mood. Plaintiff was continued on her current medications. (Tr. 180, 181.)
On November 3, 2008, plaintiff reported to Dr. Nowotny that she was selling a book. Plaintiff reported having increased anxiety with panic attacks. Mental status examination was unremarkable. Dr. Nowotny instructed plaintiff to increase her dosage of Fluoxetine and to return for follow up in four to six months. (Tr. 179.)
On May 12, 2009, Dr. Nowotny determined to adjust plaintiff's medication in response to her reports of agitation and "blah" mood. On September 8, 2009, it was noted that plaintiff was doing well. (Tr. 177, 178.)
Plaintiff returned to Dr. Nowotny at Behavioral Health on February 2, 2010, and reported that she was struggling with finances and that she had no health insurance. Plaintiff complained of loss of interest. Mental status examination showed plaintiff to have an anxious mood and flat affect. Plaintiff was continued in her diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder and was assigned a GAF score of 50. Plaintiff was instructed to continue with her current medications and was provided additional prescriptions for Abilify and Lamictal. (Tr. 175-76.)
On March 31, 2010, plaintiff did not appear for a scheduled appointment at Behavioral Health. (Tr. 174.) Plaintiff returned to Behavioral Health on June 21, 2010, and reported to Dr. Nowotny that she was doing well. Plaintiff was ...