United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CAROL E. JACKSON, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court for review of an adverse ruling by the Social Security Administration.
I. Procedural History
On April 2, 2010, plaintiff Robert Joiner filed an application for supplemental security income, Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., with an alleged onset date of March 29, 2009. (Tr. 150-53). After plaintiff's applications were denied on initial consideration (Tr. 74-78), he requested a hearing from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr.79-80).
Plaintiff and counsel appeared for a hearing on February 1, 2012. (Tr. 31-72). The ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's applications on February 21, 2012. (Tr. 9-30). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on May 8, 2013. (Tr. 1-4). Accordingly, the ALJ's decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision.
II. Evidence Before the ALJ
A. Disability Application Documents
In his Disability Report (Tr. 167-76), plaintiff listed his disabling conditions as low reading skills, trouble with his right leg, difficulty walking, right arm weakness, dizziness, and mitral valve prolapse. He stated that he stopped working on December 31, 2006, to stay home and take care of his children. He had held positions as a bus boy, dishwasher, pizza cook, short-order cook, and a laborer. He reported that he had attended a "special transitional school" because he was hyperactive and had learning disabilities. (Tr. 176).
Plaintiff completed a Function Report. (Tr. 185-95). He stated that he spent his waking hours trying to "make the best of the day" and "stay mobile." When asked how his conditions affected his abilities, plaintiff stated that he found it difficult to run, fall asleep, and bathe and shave. He did not prepare his own meals or do chores. He was able to drive on his own and shop in stores. He spent time with others watching movies and eating. He identified his areas of difficulty as lifting, squatting, bending, standing, walking, kneeling, stair climbing, seeing, understanding, following instructions and memory. He was able to walk for about 5 minutes before needing to rest.
Plaintiff's mother completed a Third-Party Function Report. (Tr. 177-84). She reported that plaintiff lived at home with his family. His daily activities included showering, checking the mail, watching television, and completing some household chores, such as washing dishes, doing laundry, and taking out the trash. He prepared simple meals and shopped for his own groceries and personal items. He could pay bills, count change, and handle bank accounts. His hobbies included watching television, using the computer, and going outside. He liked to spend time with others and visited his grandmother once a week. He did not follow written instructions very well and could follow simple spoken instructions. He did not handle stress well but managed changes in routine. In addition to the problem areas identified by plaintiff, Mrs. Joiner stated that her son had difficulty with talking, completing tasks, concentration, and completing tasks. She believed plaintiff could lift 25 pounds and walk for 100 yards before needing a rest. She noted that he had dizziness when rising and standing too long, short-term memory problems, right-side weakness, and a lisp. He needed help with reading, spelling, and remembering multiple instructions.
B. Hearing on February 1, 2012
Plaintiff was 34 years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 36). He lived in a mobile home with his mother, her boyfriend, and his older sister. When he was in school he received special education services, and he completed the twelfth grade. He had no vocational training.
Plaintiff testified that he most recently worked operating a machine in a cookie factory during the summer of 2011. (Tr. 38). The factory stopped giving him hours after his third accident, when he banged his head on one of the machines and got a concussion. (Tr. 60). Plaintiff's last full-time position was seven months on a production line in Kentucky about seven years before the hearing. (Tr. 39). That job ended when the "temporary company" terminated him without explanation. Within the prior 15 years, plaintiff had also held full-time positions as a kitchen worker, dishwasher, and bus boy. (Tr. 41).
Plaintiff testified that he had a swollen vessel in the right side of his brain. (Tr. 42). This caused dizziness, an inability to concentrate, difficulty balancing, and weakness in his right arm. (Tr. 42-43). He could not remember verbal instructions and struggled with spelling. (Tr. 62). He had a twitching sensation in the back of his right knee which became more pronounced if he sat or stood for too long. (Tr. 64-65). He had migraine headaches, but they were not as bad as they had been in the past. (Tr. 43). He was not presently under a doctor's care but was on a waiting list at the local health care center. He could not recall what medications he was taking. His last doctor had not restricted his activities. (Tr. 44). Plaintiff thought he could safely lift 10 to 15 pounds and could sit or stand for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. (Tr. 54-56). Although he had a driver's license, he had last driven about three and a half years earlier.
Plaintiff testified that he had learning problems and depression and found it difficult to talk to people. These conditions made it difficult for him to keep a job, he stated, because he couldn't keep his focus and got "tired of it and just wanted to move on." (Tr. 51). He stated that he had always struggled with feeling like he needed to "get out of" places. He occasionally had difficulties with supervisors and coworkers. He found it difficult to adjust when from one task to another. He used to drink a fifth of scotch once or twice a month, but he stopped drinking in 2004 when his son was born. (Tr. 57-58). He was once hospitalized after a relationship ended and he was depressed and agitated. (Tr. 62-63).
Plaintiff testified that he usually got up between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning. His mother made him breakfast and he watched television for a few minutes. He then showered and dressed before returning to watch television for 20 minutes or so. He then did household chores until 11:00 or 12:00, when he took a nap for two or three hours. When he woke up, he watched television, or played video games or called his children in Kentucky. If asked, he helped to prepare dinner. After dinner, he watched television again before going to bed at 9:00 or 10:00.
With respect to his personal care, plaintiff testified he sometimes became dizzy while showering and had difficulty focusing his eyes while shaving. He went grocery shopping, washed dishes, did his own laundry, and swept and vacuumed the floors. (Tr. 49). He sometimes walked around the trailer park with his sister if she asked, but he had to take a break after about five minutes. (Tr. 54). He visited with relatives about once a week. He had not seen his children in two years. (Tr. 52).
James Breen, M.S., a vocational expert, testified that plaintiff's past work as a dishwasher was classified as medium and unskilled; the fast-food position was light and unskilled; and the production position was heavy and unskilled. (Tr. 66). The ALJ asked Mr. Breen regarding the employment opportunities for an individual of plaintiff's age, education, and work experience, who was limited to unskilled work without strict time or production requirements; involving no more than superficial contact with the public and coworkers; and no more than occasional changes in the work environment. In addition, Mr. Breen was asked to assume that the individual could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; only occasionally climb ramps and stairs; could frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and had to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards. Mr. Breen testified that such an individual would be able to perform plaintiff's past work as a dishwasher; in addition, the individual would be able to work as a janitor, a warehouse worker, or hand packager. However, an individual who ...