United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
ABBIE CRITES-LEONI, Magistrate Judge.
This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of defendant's final decision denying the application of Kiersten Dennison for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. This case has been assigned to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to the Civil Justice Reform Act and is being heard by consent of the parties. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Plaintiff filed a Brief in support of the Complaint. [Doc. 15] Defendant filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. [Doc. 20]
On September 13, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, claiming that she became unable to work due to her disabling condition on June 30, 2010. (Tr. 111-12.) This claim was denied initially and, following an administrative hearing, Plaintiff's claim was denied in a written opinion by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), dated February 22, 2012. (Tr. 60-65, 8-20.) Plaintiff then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which was denied on February 28, 2013. (Tr. 7, 1-6.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
Evidence Before the ALJ
A. ALJ Hearing
Plaintiff's administrative hearing was held on December 12, 2011. (Tr. 27.) Plaintiff was present and was represented by counsel. Also present was vocational expert Brenda Young.
Plaintiff's attorney stated that Plaintiff has been diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, and experiences a lot of pain in the coccyx area. (Tr. 30.) Plaintiff's attorney argued that Plaintiff is unable to work due to a combination of her emotional condition (major depression and general anxiety disorder) and her pain from coccydynia. Id.
Plaintiff testified that she was forty-three years of age; five-feet, five inches tall; and weighed 180 pounds. (Tr. 31.)
Plaintiff stated that she was married, and had five biological children, one stepson, and one grandson she was raising. Id . Plaintiff testified that her children were aged three to twenty-one, and four of the children lived with her at the time of the hearing. Id . Plaintiff stated that her husband worked as a manager of a business. (Tr. 32.)
Plaintiff testified that she had a driver's license, and that she drove to medical appointments and the grocery store. Id . Plaintiff stated that she drove approximately once a week, however, she tries to avoid driving due to lower back pain. Id . Plaintiff stated that her daughter drove her to the hearing. Id.
Plaintiff testified that she obtained her GED. (Tr. 33.) Plaintiff stated that she has not taken any college courses or received any vocational training. (Tr. 33.) She has not worked at all since June 30, 2010. Id.
Plaintiff stated that she received a workers' compensation settlement in April of 2010. Id . Plaintiff testified that she fell at work and injured her knee. (Tr. 34.)
Plaintiff stated that she had health insurance through her husband's employer. (Tr. 35.)
Prior work included plaintiff's office administrative duties and warehouse work at A.C. Systems. Id . At times, she lifted as much as seventy pounds as part of her job responsibilities. (Tr. 35-36.) She left that position, because she was unable to work due to her coccydynia. (Tr. 36.) Plaintiff also performed office work at Jiffy Lube; she quit that position when she married her husband. (Tr. 36.) From 2001 to 2002, plaintiff worked as a care-taker for her disabled aunt. Plaintiff also worked as a bus driver for First Student; she loaded students in wheelchairs onto the bus and performed inspections of the bus. (Tr. 37) Plaintiff quit the bus driver position when her son was diagnosed with leukemia. Id.
After injuring her knee in the work accident, plaintiff participated in physical therapy. (Tr. 38.) Use of an exercise bike was part of the therapy. Id . Plaintiff started experiencing pain in her low spine, or coccyx area, after using the exercise bike. Id . Plaintiff indicated she has learned to adjust her life around the pain she experiences. (Tr. 39.) Plaintiff stated that she avoids stairs, sitting for long periods, and standing for long periods, due to her pain. Id.
Plaintiff has seen pain specialists who recommended injections. Id . She did not undergo the injections, because she has "an extreme phobia of medication" since she suffered an allergic reaction to medication as a teenager. Id.
Plaintiff initially took Percocet for her tailbone pain, because her doctors convinced her it was safe. Id . She started taking Vicodin instead, because the Percocet upset her stomach. (Tr. 40.) She takes Vicodin three times a day-she says it "takes the edge off" her pain and allows her to "function a little better daily." Id.
Plaintiff is able to take care of her three-year-old child, do housework, and shop for groceries when she takes pain medication. Id . Plaintiff needs someone with her to shop for groceries; they help carry things and are there due to her balance problems. Id.
Plaintiff testified that she started taking Ativan for anxiety after her son was diagnosed with leukemia. (Tr. 41.) She has had anxiety attacks all her life, but they increased when her son became ill. Id . Plaintiff's pain management physician referred her to Dr. Sherri Bassi due to her medication phobia and plaintiff sees Dr. Bassi approximately twice a month. (Tr. 42) Plaintiff started seeing Dr. Datta, a psychiatrist, five months prior to the hearing. (Tr. 41) Dr. Datta started plaintiff back on Ativan. Id . Plaintiff had been struggling to leave her house or do anything due to anxiety. Id.
Plaintiff stated she does not feel comfortable leaving the house because of her depression and anxiety. (Tr. 42.) Plaintiff has crying spells "all the time, " because she feels like a burden to her family. Id . She is unable to go to the movies, or sit at the kitchen table with her family at dinner, because she experiences back pain when sitting for long periods. (Tr. 43.) She stated that does not attend functions at her kids' school unless she can stand during the events. Id . Plaintiff fears she will experience an anxiety attack while visiting friends or relatives. Id.
Plaintiff testified that an anxiety attack feels like a heart attack, specifically, she feels scared, her heart beats fast, and she becomes hot and dizzy. Id . She experiences anxiety attacks three to four times a week, and they last fifteen to twenty minutes. Id . Plaintiff is really tired after experiencing an attack, and usually rests the remainder of the day. (Tr. 44.)
Plaintiff testified that Dr. Bassi referred her to a psychiatrist, because her anxiety attacks were becoming more severe. Id . The psychiatrist increased her Ativan and suggested that she take Cymbalta,  because it would help with her anxiety, depression, and fibromyalgia. Id . Plaintiff stated that she cannot take Cymbalta, because she is afraid she will have a bad reaction to it. Id.
Plaintiff indicated that she experiences occasional problems with concentration and memory when her pain is severe. Id . Her sleep varies in that she has periods during which she sleeps well, and then other periods when she only sleeps two to three hours a night. (Tr. 45.)
Plaintiff stated that she has good days and bad days. Id . She has a daily goal to always "at least fix dinner." Id . On a good day, plaintiff is able to do laundry and sweep the floors. Id . She has good days about half of the time. Id.
The ALJ re-examined Plaintiff, who testified that she is able to sit about ten minutes before she experiences severe pain. (Tr. 46.) She is able to stand for about ten minutes before she has to sit down due to pain. Id . Plaintiff explained that she experiences lower back pain due to the coccydynia and "aches all the time" due to fibromyalgia. Id.
The ALJ next questioned the vocational expert (VE), Ms. Young, who classified Plaintiff's past work as follows: secretarial and office work (light, semi-skilled); school bus driver (medium, semi-skilled); and healthcare aide (heavy, unskilled). (Tr. 47-48.)
The ALJ asked the VE to assume a hypothetical claimant with Plaintiff's background and the following limitations: light work; unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; unable to operate foot controls; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; avoid all operational control of moving machinery, working at unprotected heights, use of any hazardous machinery; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme vibration; limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks; and low stress job, with only occasional decision-making, occasional changes in the work setting, and occasional interaction with the public. (Tr. 48.) The VE testified that the individual would be unable to perform any of Plaintiff's past work. The VE stated that the individual could perform other light, unskilled work, such as: cafeteria counter/salad bar attendant (400, 000 positions nationally, 4, 000 locally); or semi-skilled positions such as file clerk (186, 000 positions nationally, 2, 000 locally); and small product assembly (7000, 000 positions nationally, 7, 000 locally). (Tr. 48-49.) The VE testified that employers at the positions cited would tolerate no more than one unexcused absence per month. (Tr. 49.)
The ALJ next asked the VE to assume the same limitations as the first hypothetical with the additional limitation of a sit/stand option once every hour. Id . The VE testified that only the file clerk position would remain. (Tr. 50.)
The ALJ next asked the VE to assume an individual who was limited to sedentary work, with a sit/stand option once every hour while remaining on task, along with the other limitations set forth in the first hypothetical. Id . The VE testified that the individual could perform a portion of ...