United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
JEFFREY L. HOLLOMON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JOHN A. ROSS, District Judge.
This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Jeffrey L. Hollomon's ("Hollomon") application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 404-433.
On December 7, 2007,  Hollomon filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. (Tr. 200-207) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied his application on March 20, 2008. (Tr. 112) Hollomon filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on May 19, 2008. (Tr. 116) Following a hearing on January 13, 2010 (Tr. 28-40), the ALJ issued a written decision on March 12, 2010, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 88) Hollomon requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council and on March 4, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded the case for further evaluation. (Tr. 105-107)
Hollomon appeared and testified at a second hearing held on January 11, 2012. (Tr. 41-83) Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on January 26, 2012, finding Hollomon was not disabled. (Tr. 7) Hollomon again requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on January 15, 2013. (Tr. 1) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel , 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
Hollomon filed this appeal on March 14, 2013. (Doc. No. 1) The Commissioner filed an Answer. (Doc. No. 9) Hollomon filed a brief in support of his complaint (Doc. No. 23) and the Commissioner filed a brief in support of the answer. (Doc. No. 28) Hollomon did not file a reply.
II. Decision of the ALJ
The ALJ determined that Hollomon had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 7, 2007, the application date. (Tr. 12) The ALJ found Hollomon had the severe impairments of degenerative disk disease and bipolar disorder, but that no impairment or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 12-14)
After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Hollomon has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than the full range of light work. (Tr. 14) Specifically, Hollomon is able to lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and climb ramps and stairs occasionally, but no ladders ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should avoid hazards such as dangerous machinery or unprotected heights. He is able to understand, remember and carry out non-detailed two-to-three step instructions, and perform repetitive tasks in a routine work setting, involving few changes, where interaction with co-workers is superficial, and where the work would be performed in a non-public work setting. (Tr. 14-15) The ALJ found Hollomon unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 20) but that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, such as cleaner/housekeeper, small products assembler and hand packager/inspector. (Tr. 21) Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of "not disabled" was appropriate. (Id.)
Hollomon appeals, contending the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the treating source opinion. (Doc. No. 23 at 6) The Commissioner maintains that the ALJ properly addressed the medical opinion evidence. (Doc. No. 28 at 4)
III. Administrative Record
The following is a summary of the relevant evidence before the ALJ.
A. Hearing Testimony
The ALJ held a hearing in this matter on January 11, 2012. (Tr. 41) Hollomon testified and was represented by counsel. In his opening statement, Hollomon's counsel represented that while Hollomon has some physical limitations, he cannot work at any level primarily due to his mental limitations. (Tr. 45) Vocational expert Gary Weimholt also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 75-82)
1. Hollomon's testimony
At the time of the hearing, Hollomon was 51 years old. (Tr. 46) He is divorced and lives by himself. (Tr. 45, 54) He has a high school education. (Tr. 46) Hollomon last worked in 2004 in a warehouse loading and unloading meat. (Tr. 47) He quit because he was having trouble with his back. (Tr. 64) Since that time, and through 2011, Hollomon has done small jobs for friends, such as cleaning gutters, hanging Christmas lights, and general yard work. (Tr. 47-48) His mother helps him with his expenses and takes care of his bills. (Tr. 53) Hollomon testified it had been more than six months since he applied for a job. (Tr. 54) He has not received unemployment benefits since filing for disability. (Tr. 55)
During the hearing, Hollomon was observed twitching in both his hands and his legs. (Tr. 55) It was his testimony that while he was nervous because of the hearing, the twitching was not the result of being out or around people; it happens at home when he is by himself. (Tr. 55-56) Hollomon takes eight different medications for stress, anxiety, bipolar disorder, his heart and stomach, and to help him sleep. (Tr. 58-59) He suffers no side effects from these medications. (Tr. 59) Hollomon testified that he did not sleep well since he had been diagnosed as bipolar. (Tr. 59) He usually goes to bed about 9:00 p.m. and wakes up in the middle of the night. When that happens, he lays there until morning. (Tr. 59)
With respect to his physical problems, it was Hollomon's testimony that he basically lives with a "small amount of pain" in his lower back and hips from a L4-L5 spinal fusion. (Tr. 60) In terms of activities, he testified that if he has a lot of pain, he limits his activity to twenty minutes at a time and then sits down and relaxes for twenty minutes. (Tr. 61) He stated that his back pain does not keep him from doing anything around his house. (Tr. 61-62) He can stand and walk for 30-45 minutes before having to sit down. (Tr. 62) Hollomon gets a small amount of relief from Ibuprofen. (Tr. 62) He also testified that an injury he sustained to his lower right leg in August 1977 still bothers him, but that he always been able to work with pain. (Tr. 63-64)
Hollomon testified his biggest issue seemed to be his mental problems. (Tr. 64) Although he has had problems with anxiety and stress since he was a child, Hollomon stated that now he has more nervousness, stress and anxiety. (Tr. 64-65) He doesn't leave his house unless he absolutely has to. (Tr. 65, 71) He has difficulty carrying on a conversation. (Id.) He also has problems with his memory, ...