United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
CHARLITA K. JONES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH, Magistrate Judge.
This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying the application of Plaintiff Charlita K. Jones ("Plaintiff") for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. (the "Act"). This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for review and a recommended disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The undersigned recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On August 27, 2010, Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging that she had been unable to work since January 1, 1992 due to rheumatoid arthritis. (Tr. 127-30, 163). On November 15, 2010, that application was denied. (Tr. 74-78). On December 3, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 79). After a hearing on February 7, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision dated March 8, 2012. (Tr. 59-73). Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council on May 3, 2012 (Tr. 7), but the Appeals Council denied the request for review on March 21, 2013. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies, and the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
A. PLAINTIFF'S TESTIMONY
Plaintiff was 25 years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 14). She has had rheumatoid arthritis since childhood. (Tr. 22). Plaintiff has a tenth grade education and no GED. (Tr. 15). She has a cellphone and has a Facebook account, but she does not own or use a computer. (Tr. 17). Plaintiff last worked in 2010 at Costco as a food demonstrator, and before that she had several temporary clerical jobs and full-time jobs at Sears and Dillard's. (Tr. 19-21). She also worked at Popeye's for two weeks but quit because of the amount of standing that was required and the requirement that she clean. (Tr. 21). She testified that for most of her jobs, she either got fired or had to quit because of her rheumatoid arthritis. (Tr. 22).
Plaintiff's rheumatoid arthritis renders her unable to stand for long periods of time. (Tr. 22). When she sits for extended periods of time, her knees become stiff, her ankles swell, and her elbow locks up so that she cannot fully extend it. She cannot do a lot of lifting. (Tr. 23). Her knee pain and stiffness become worse when she climbs or descends stairs, sits too long, sleeps with her knees bent, or stands too long. (Tr. 33-34). Plaintiff wakes up with stiffness in her fingers that affects her ability to grip small objects, pick things up, and write. (Tr. 34). The stiffness lasts four to five hours, although submerging the swollen joints in hot water reduces the stiffness and pain. (Tr. 34-35). She also has to rest her hands during the day to regain function. (Tr. 34). She also has throbbing pain and stiffness in her right wrist, both knees, both ankles, and knuckles on both hands. (Tr. 23, 33). She has trouble gripping items like cups and combing her hair due to the pain in her knuckles. (Tr. 36). The most comfortable position for her is lying across the couch. (Tr. 35). She can walk for about 15 minutes before needing to rest; can stand for 30 minutes at a time; can sit for an hour at a time; and can lift up to ten pounds. (Tr. 30).
Plaintiff frequently feels fatigued and describes her energy level as low. (Tr. 35). She generally takes two separate hour-long naps in the first half of the day. (Tr. 35-36).
Plaintiff testified that for a six-month period she was not taking her medication because she did not have insurance and could not afford the $1, 000-per-month treatment. (Tr. 26). She also believes that her body has developed immunity to her medication due to the length of time she has been taking it. (Tr. 26-27).
Plaintiff can prepare meals that do not require much standing and can do dishes by hand sometimes. (Tr. 28-29). She also cares for her two children, one of whom has Down's syndrome. However, she sometimes needs assistance dressing her son, and his stepfather gets him on and off the bus to kindergarten each day. (Tr. 24-26). She does not vacuum, do yard work, or do laundry. (Tr. 29-30). Her mother and sister come over to do her laundry for her because she cannot walk down the steps to the basement. (Tr. 29, 31). Her sister and mother also drive her to the grocery store, where she rides in an electric cart and buys small items. (Tr. 30). She would not be able to take care of everything she does if it were not for the help provided by her sister, her mother, and her children's stepfather. (Tr. 36-37).
B. MEDICAL EVIDENCE
On June 21, 2006, Plaintiff was seen by Andrew White, M.D. He noted that she had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and had been seen frequently for joint injections through the years. She had been advised to stop her medications (methotrexate and Enbrel) during her recent pregnancy, and she did not have joint problems during her pregnancy. However, in the three months since her baby was born, her knee pain and swelling had gotten so bad that and that she was having trouble walking. She was observed to limp onto the exam table. Her left knee was markedly swollen, and her right knee was swollen to a lesser extent. She was unable to extend her knees fully but otherwise had normal range of motion. (Tr. 230). Dr. White performed an aspiration of joint fluid from both of her knees, injected triamcinolone, and gave Plaintiff new prescriptions for methotrexate and Enbrel. (Tr. 228-30).
On December 28, 2007, Plaintiff went to St. Louis University Hospital and reported a two-month history of joint pain. (Tr. 326). She indicated that her pain was at a seven out of ten in her wrist, back, elbow, and ankle. (Tr. 329). It is unclear what treatment she received.
On January 14, 2008, Plaintiff saw Rama Bandlamudi, M.D., at St. Louis University's Division of Rheumatology. (Tr. 251-53). Plaintiff reported pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of motion in her joints, in particular her elbows. (Tr. 252). On examination, she had some limited range of motion in her knees and elbows. (Tr. 253).
On January 16, 2008, X-rays showed no evidence of arthritis in her ankles or feet; mild soft tissue swelling in her hands and wrists; and no acute osseous abnormality in her elbows. (Tr. 258-64).
On February 11, 2008, Plaintiff saw Dr. Bandlamudi at St. Louis University and reported feeling improved after being on methotrexate. However, she reported morning stiffness for 60 minutes in her elbows and shoulder, as well as fatigue. On examination, she had swelling in both wrists and ankles. (Tr. 249).
On February 15, 2008, Dr. Bandlamudi and Dr. Purani Palaniswami wrote a letter summarizing Plaintiff's medical history and current and recent treatments. (Tr. 246-48). They noted that Plaintiff would continue taking methotrexate because it was helping her, as well as folic acid and naproxen. They noted that Plaintiff's insurance might be increasing in March 2008 and might give her coverage for anti-TNF inhibitors. (Tr. 248).
On December 22, 2008, Plaintiff was examined by Elbert Cason, M.D. (Tr. 267-269). Plaintiff stated that she could walk two blocks, stand for two hours, and go up two flights of stairs. She could not squat but could bend over. Her medication helped somewhat. She was able to write, hold a coffee cup, and button her clothes. She indicated that on an average functional day, she washed dishes, did her own laundry, and took care of her son. (Tr. 267). Plaintiff could heel and toe stand and squat by holding onto the edge of the desk; her gait was normal; her back motion was normal; her straight leg raises were normal; her cervical spine motions were normal; her ankle motions were normal; her wrist motions were normal; her knee motions were normal; and she could use her fingers for buttoning, ...