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Hudson v. Colvin

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

August 22, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


THOMAS C. MUMMERT, III, Magistrate Judge.

This action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner), denying the applications of Barbara Ann Hudson (Plaintiff) for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 401-433, and for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381-1383b, is before the undersigned by written consent of the parties.[1] See 28 U.S.C § 636(c).

Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI in July 2011, alleging she was disabled as of October 1, 2010, because of depression, learning disabilities, low intelligence quotient ("IQ"), anxiety disorder, memory loss, bipolar disorder, and right knee pain and immobility. (R.[2] at 132-46, 164.) After the initial denial of her applications, a hearing was held in January 2013 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Amy Klingemann. (Id. at 32-76, 79-83, 81-87.) By decision rendered March 1, 2013, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was not disabled before February 1, 2013, but was thereafter.[3] (Id. at 13-15, 17-27.) The Appeals Council initially denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 5-7.) The Appeals Council then set aside that denial, considered unspecified additional information, and again denied review, effectively adopting the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-3.)

Testimony Before the ALJ

Plaintiff, represented by counsel, and Dale A. Thomas, C.R.C., [4] testified at the administrative hearing.

Plaintiff was fifty-four years old at the time of the hearing. (Id. at 42.) She was 5 feet 2.5 inches tall and weighed 146 pounds. (Id. at 42-43.) She finished the eleventh grade; failed the twelfth grade; and got a General Equivalency Degree ("GED"). (Id. at 43) She also finished a medical computer secretary course. (Id.) At the time of the hearing, she was working two to six hours a week cleaning house for three elderly clients. (Id. at 44.) This job entailed vacuuming, mopping, cooking a meal if they needed one, cleaning the bathroom, and doing their laundry. (Id.)

She worked for the City of St. Louis from 1997 to 2005 or 2006. (Id. at 46, 48, 49.)

Asked what prevents her from currently working full-time, Plaintiff explained that she does not have the energy to do so and that no one will hire her. (Id. at 49.) Her hips have started to bother her. (Id. at 50-51.) Although she is taking medications, she has crying spells. (Id. at 52.) She has trouble with her memory. (Id.) She has trouble with people "when they don't treat [her] equally." (Id. at 53.) Depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder also prevent her from working full time. (Id. at 62.)

On a typical day, Plaintiff gets up, takes her medicine, goes to a client's home if she is scheduled to and cleans, comes home, takes a nap, and then, when the person she lives with comes home, makes dinner. (Id. at 54.) She does not have any hobbies. (Id.) She has two cats; she helps the person she lives with take care of them. (Id. at 54-55)

Plaintiff also testified that she had been physically abused by her ex-husband. (Id. at 58.) She thinks of suicide at least every other day. (Id. at 59.)

Mr. Thomas, testifying without objection as a vocational expert ("VE"), characterized Plaintiff's job cleaning houses as a general house worker, defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"), 301.474-010, as medium and semiskilled. (Id. at 64-65.) Her job as an officer worker, DOT 219.362-010, is light and semi-skilled. (Id. at 65.) Her job as a personal care aide, 354.377-014, is medium and semi-skilled as defined in the DOT and light as she performed it. (Id.)

He was then asked to assume a hypothetical claimant of Plaintiff's age, education, and past work experience who can perform repetitive tasks and is limited to occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers and to no interaction with the public. (Id. at 66.) Mr. Thomas testified that this person cannot perform Plaintiff's past jobs but can perform other jobs. (Id. at 66-67.) For instance, she can work as a bench assembler or packer. (Id.) These jobs can also be performed by a hypothetical claimant who can handle only occasional changes in the workplace. (Id. at 67.) If one day a week the hypothetical claimant would be absent from work or have to leave work, no jobs would be available. (Id. at 68.)

Medical and Other Records Before the ALJ

The documentary record before the ALJ included forms completed as part of the application process, documents generated pursuant to Plaintiff's applications, records from health care providers, and assessments of her physical and mental abilities.

When applying for DIB and SSI, Plaintiff completed a Disability Report, disclosing that she had stopped working in October 2010 because of her condition. (Id. at 165.) Her current medications included Ability (for anxiety and depression), Synthroid (for hypothyroidism), warfarin (to prevent blood clots), and Wellbutrin (for depression). (Id. at 167.)

Plaintiff also completed a Function Report. (Id. at 171-78.) Asked to describe what she does during the day, she replied that she eats breakfast, takes medications, reads, rests, eats lunch, rests, prepares and eats supper, reads, rests, watches a television show, and goes to bed. (Id. at 171.) She does word searches. (Id.) She lives in a house with a friend. (Id.) She does not have any problems taking care of her personal needs, but does take a sleeping pill every night. (Id. at 172.) Before her impairments, she could operate a computer, clean a house, and be taught. (Id.) She does one load of laundry a week and one cleaning chore a day. (Id. at 173.) This takes her fifteen minutes a day. (Id.) Twice a month for no longer than an hour, she shops for groceries. (Id. at 174.) She attends church twice a week and talks on the telephone with friends daily. (Id. at 175.) Because of her impairments, she cries easily. (Id. at 176.) Her impairments adversely affect her abilities to squat, bend, stand, walk, kneel, talk, hear, remember, understand, concentrate, climb stairs, complete tasks, follow instructions, and get along with others. (Id.) She cannot pay attention for longer than three minutes and seldom finishes what she starts. (Id.) She cannot walk for longer than fifteen minutes before becoming short of breath. (Id.) She cannot follow written or spoken instructions well. (Id.) She does not handle stress or changes in routine well. (Id. at 177.)

A friend completed a Function Report on Plaintiff's behalf. (Id. at 189-96.) Her answers generally mirrored Plaintiff's with the exceptions of listing only seven abilities adversely affected by her impairments, i.e., understanding, bending, remembering, concentrating, following instructions, completing tasks, and getting along with others, and with describing how well Plaintiff handles changes in routine as "pretty good." (Id.)

On a Work History Report, Plaintiff named a clerk/typist job as the job she had held the longest. (Id. at 182.) In that job, the heaviest weight she occasionally lifted was fifty pounds; the heaviest weight she frequently lifted was twenty-five pounds. (Id. at 187.) She walked or stood for a total of three hours each. (Id.)

Plaintiff completed a Disability Report - Appeal form after the initial denial of her application, reporting that her short-term memory and social anxiety were worse. (Id. at 197-201.) In addition to her other medications, she was taking temazepam to help her sleep. (Id. at 199.)

The relevant medical records before the ALJ are summarized below in chronological order and begin in February 2010 when Plaintiff went to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital with complaints of moderate left arm pain that had started twelve to twenty-four hours earlier. (Id. at 523-45.) On examination, a review of her systems, including psychiatric, were negative with the exception of "very minimal swelling (if any) of left arm.". (Id. at 523, 525-26, 532-33.) Chest x-rays were negative. (Id. at 539.) A doppler study was done to rule out deep venous thrombosis; it did. (Id. at 538, 539-40.) Plaintiff's dosage of Coumadin (the brand name for warfarin) was adjusted and she was discharged. (Id.)

Plaintiff returned to the emergency room on March 3 for complaints of chest pain. (Id. at 546-66.) She was "on chronic long-term anticoagulation" medication and had stopped taking it one week earlier in anticipation of upcoming surgery. (Id. at 546.) Several times a day since then, she had been having pain that radiated to her back between her shoulder blades. (Id.) On examination, a review of her systems was negative, including psychiatric, neurological, and musculoskeletal. (Id. at 548-49, 554-55.) It was noted that she had no left arm pain or swelling. (Id. at 552.) A computed tomography ("CT") angiogram of her chest was negative for pulmonary emboli. (Id. at 550, 556, 563.) An stress echocardiogram was negative for ischemia. (Id. at 556, 558-59.) Plaintiff reportedly was having second thoughts about the surgery and was instructed to talk with her surgeon. (Id. at 556.) She was stable and asymptomatic, and was discharged home. (Id. at 562.)

Five days later, Plaintiff was admitted to Mercy Hospital for gynecologic surgery. (Id. at 567-74.) She was ...

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