United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
LINDA K. JACKSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANNETTE A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Linda K. Jackson brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. All matters are pending before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Because the Commissioner's final decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, it is reversed.
I. Procedural History
On January 13, 2011, the Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's September 22, 2010, application for DIB in which she claimed she became disabled on August 23, 2010, because of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), urinary incontinence, headaches, hypertension, irregular heartbeat, depression, anxiety, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). (Tr. 78, 89-95, 138-44, 182.) At plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on October 16, 2012, at which plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 29-63.) On December 10, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim for benefits finding that plaintiff could perform other work as it exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 8-23.) On January 17, 2014, after reviewing additional evidence, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-6.) The ALJ's determination thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
In the instant action for judicial review, plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Plaintiff specifically argues that her mental impairment meets the criteria of Listing 12.07A(3) - Somatoform Disorders, and that the ALJ erred in failing to consider this condition as a severe impairment. Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ erred in finding her subjective complaints not to be credible. Finally, plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to consider the vocational expert's testimony to the extent it supported a finding that plaintiff's limitations would prevent her from performing any work. Plaintiff requests that the final decision be reversed and that she be awarded benefits or that the matter be remanded for further consideration. For the reasons that follow, the matter will be remanded for further proceedings.
II. Testimonial Evidence Before the ALJ
1. Plaintiff's Testimony
At the hearing on February 29, 2012, plaintiff testified in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.
At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was fifty-three years old. Plaintiff was five feet, seven inches tall and weighed between 235 and 245 pounds. Plaintiff was not married and had no children. She lived with her brother and received financial help from her relatives. She attended college for one year. (Tr. 34-36.)
Plaintiff's Work History Report shows that plaintiff worked as a housekeeper in a hospital from January 1990 to May 1992. From October 1994 to July 2002, plaintiff worked as a staple machine operator in manufacturing. Plaintiff was a seasonal worker in retail from November 2002 to January 2003. From June 2004 to December 2008, plaintiff worked as a machine operator in auto parts manufacturing. (Tr. 269-74.) Plaintiff was laid off from this job because the company was downsizing. Plaintiff thereafter applied for unemployment benefits. (Tr. 38, 56.) After obtaining work in a warehouse, plaintiff was fired in August 2009 because the work was fast-paced and she made too many mistakes. Plaintiff had this job for less than a month. (Tr. 36-38, 54.) Plaintiff then collected unemployment benefits, which ended in 2010 before she filed for disability. (Tr. 38, 57.)
Plaintiff testified that she applied for disability benefits because of worsening intestinal problems, heart problems, and lack of stamina. Plaintiff testified that she also had pain and swelling in her legs, knees, and ankles, which cause difficulty with standing. (Tr. 39-40.) She also experienced swelling in her hands and arms. (Tr. 42.)
Plaintiff testified that her intestinal problems require her to be near a bathroom and that she worries about this circumstance whenever she plans to do anything. Plaintiff testified that the urgency causes her to stop whatever she is doing and seek the bathroom. Plaintiff testified that she experiences this circumstance up to a dozen times a day, and no less than five times. Plaintiff testified that she needs to be within twenty-five feet of a bathroom. (Tr. 46-47.)
Plaintiff testified that she experiences swelling in her legs after she stands for an hour or two. The problem is especially significant in the right foot. Plaintiff takes medication and elevates her legs for two to three hours a day for the condition. Plaintiff also testified that her poor stamina limits her ability to engage in any activity, and that she must sit after about thirty minutes of activity and elevate her foot. (Tr. 40-42.)
Plaintiff testified that she also has problems with her right arm in that repetitive use causes it to give out and the fingers and thumb of her right hand to become "stuck" in position, thus causing her to be unable to grip things. (Tr. 49.)
Plaintiff also testified that she experiences headaches that are triggered by fluorescent lights, headlights from oncoming cars, and neck strain when she moves her head from side to side. (Tr. 50.) Plaintiff testified that her left eye is somewhat immobile, which impedes her peripheral vision. Plaintiff testified that wearing bifocal glasses helps when she drives. (Tr. 57.)
Plaintiff testified that she has worsening problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making. Plaintiff testified that she panics when she cannot find things such as her keys or pocketbook. Plaintiff testified that she gets lost coming out of stores and panics when she cannot find her car. She avoids going to stores when they are crowded. (Tr. 43-44.) Plaintiff testified that she puts things off until the last minute because she feels she is "shoving the panic away" by doing so. Plaintiff testified that she has difficulty dealing with people - especially her relatives - because they do not understand her issues. (Tr. 51.)
Plaintiff testified that she experiences depression because of her physical and financial condition. Plaintiff testified that she is not as happy as she used to be and no longer has empathy. Plaintiff testified that she does not feel good about her sister supporting her financially, knowing that the circumstance is putting a financial and emotional strain on her sister. (Tr. 44-46.)
B. Testimony of Vocational Expert
Mary Harris, a vocational expert, testified at the hearing in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel.
Ms. Harris classified plaintiff's past work as a machine operator and as a stapler as unskilled and medium. (Tr. 60.)
The ALJ asked Ms. Harris to consider an individual of plaintiff's age, education, and work experience who could perform the full range of light exertional work except that she could not perform occupations that required peripheral acuity and was limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks with no production rate or pace work - meaning "no strict or fast paced production requirements although competitive requirements would still exist." The ALJ asked Ms. Harris to further assume that the individual was limited to superficial interaction with the public and coworkers. (Tr. 60-61.) Ms. Harris testified that such a person could not perform plaintiff's past work but could perform other work in the economy such as light cleaner, of which 19, 000 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 865, 000 nationally; office helper, of which 6, 500 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 200, 000 nationally; and press tender, of which 6, 800 such jobs exist in the State of Missouri and 342, 000 nationally. (Tr. 61.)
The ALJ then asked Ms. Harris to assume that the same individual would be off task greater than ten percent during the work period or would have more than two unscheduled or unexcused absences each month. Ms. Harris testified that such a person could not perform any job in the national economy. (Tr. 62.)
Counsel asked Ms. Harris to assume that the person would make greater than four errors performing simple, repetitive, and routine work. Ms. Harris testified that such a person ...