United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
INDIANA S. RICE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
TERRY I. ADELMAN, Magistrate Judge.
This cause is on appeal from an adverse ruling of the Social Security Administration. The suit involves Applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act. Claimant has filed a Brief in Support of his Complaint, and the Commissioner has filed a Brief in Support of her Answer. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
I. Procedural History
On July 11, 2011, Claimant Indiana S. Rice filed Applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et. seq. (Tr. 156-71) and for Supplemental Security Income payments pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et. seq. (Tr. 147-55). Claimant states that his disability began on June 30, 2011,  as a result of depression and anxiety. (Tr. 79, 190). On initial consideration, the Social Security Administration denied Claimant's claims for benefits. (Tr. 79-83). Claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 84-86). On August 7, 2012, a hearing was held before an ALJ. (Tr. 32-75). Claimant testified and was represented by counsel. (Id.). Vocational Expert Julie Bose also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 69-75). Thereafter, on August 23, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Claimant's claims for benefits. (Tr. 13-27). After considering the representative brief, the Appeals Council found no basis for changing the ALJ's decision on October 21, 2013. (Tr. 1-6, 9-12, 240-43). The ALJ's determination thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
II. Evidence Before the ALJ
A. Hearing on August 7, 2012
1. Claimant's Testimony
At the hearing on August 7, 2012, Claimant testified in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel. (Tr. 32-75). At the time of the hearing, Claimant was twenty-six years of age, and his date of birth is April 7, 1986. (Tr. 39). Claimant stands at five feet ten inches and weighs 145 pounds. (Tr. 39). He is right-handed. (Tr. 40). Claimant is single without children and lives with two friends. He takes care of fourteen dogs and a dozen cats. (Tr. 40). Claimant receives food stamps and Medicaid, and he helps around the house in lieu of paying rent. (Tr. 41-42). He takes care of the animals and does yard work. (Tr. 42). Claimant completed the eleventh grade and then received his GED. (Tr. 42). He received computer training at the Job Corps. (Tr. 43). Claimant has a computer, a cell phone, an email address, and a Facebook page. (Tr. 43).
Claimant testified that on June 30, 2011, he was experiencing extreme depression and having suicidal thoughts and presented at a hospital for admission. (Tr. 44). He testified that his stress and anxiety prevent him from performing a sit-down job. (Tr. 44). He last worked as a janitor in a health center from August, 2009 through February 15, 2010 cleaning rooms in a nursing home. (Tr. 44-45). Claimant was fired, because the other employees were bothered by his talking to himself on the job. (Tr. 45). He mopped floors and lifted trash. Claimant testified that he could not perform the janitorial job, because he has problems being around groups of people. Prior to working as a janitor, he worked as a crew member at Arby's for two to three months in 2009. (Tr.45). Claimant prepared sandwiches, worked the drive-through window, and worked the cash register. (Tr. 46). He quit after his car broke down, and he lacked transportation to get to work. He attended the Job Corps in 2007-2008 and was trained in computer repair and received some payment. (Tr. 46). He performed dock-loading work for one month at a potato products manufacturing company, but family issues forced him to leave the job and move back to Missouri. (Tr. 47). He worked for two to three months on an assembly line at a shoe factory sorting shoe soles based on color and size, but he quit when he no longer wanted the job. Claimant worked at McDonald's for nine months, but he quit when his hours were cut. (Tr. 48). Since June 30, 2011, he has not worked, but he has applied for jobs every couple of months. (Tr. 49). Claimant testified that he has applied for stocking jobs at a grocery stores, because the jobs require little interaction with people. When he applies for a job, he goes to the store and asks if the store is hiring. (Tr. 49).
After waking up around 9:00 a.m., Claimant cleans the house and helps Ms. Wood, one of his roommates, lift and carry things and complete daily activities. (Tr. 50). He plays video games and completes his online school work. (Tr. 51). He is enrolled in ITT Tech and is working on a two-year associate degree in Web design technology. Claimant testified that he receives the assignments at the beginning of the week and completes them when he has time. (Tr. 52). He taken out student loans and applied for grants. He explained the purpose of getting an associate's degree would be to further his education and be able to obtain employment he could perform from home. He plays video puzzle games on the computer and watches television. (Tr. 52). If he enjoys a particular game, he can play the game for four to six hours. (Tr. 53). Claimant does yard work and mows the lawn and helps take care of the outside animals. (Tr. 54). He goes grocery shopping or dog food shopping once a week for an hour or two. (Tr. 56). Claimant helps wash the dishes, makes his bed, vacuums, and dusts. (Tr. 57).
Although Claimant has a driver's license, he has not driven after June 30, 2011, because he does not own a vehicle. (Tr. 57). He has no driving limitations and would drive if he owned a vehicle. (Tr. 58). He smokes a package of cigarettes each day, and Ms. Wood purchases the cigarettes for him. (Tr. 59).
Claimant takes Chlordiazep for anxiety and testified the medication helps him. (Tr. 59). He takes Pristiq for depression, and he testified the medication is working better than Celexa. (Tr. 60). Dr. Gowda changed his medication one month earlier. (Tr. 60). Dr. Gowda treats his depression, and Claimant testified that Dr. Gowda has helped him. (Tr. 62). He has not been hospitalized recently for depression. (Tr. 63). He has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. He last experienced a panic attack two months earlier, and he blanked out and was nonresponsive. He testified how loud noises triggers his anxiety. (Tr. 63). Petting an animal or playing a video game calms him down. (Tr. 64). He was last hospitalized in June 2011 for treatment of depression and anxiety. He received treatment in the emergency room two months earlier. (Tr. 64).
Claimant testified that he does not have any problems concentrating or paying attention. (Tr. 65). He testified that gets along fine with people except he can be shy around a new person. He has no problems understanding instructions. (Tr. 65). He has some anxiety being in public in general. (Tr. 67).
2. Testimony of Vocational Expert
Vocational Expert Julie Bose testified in response to the ALJ's questions. (Tr. 69-75). Ms. Bose summarized his last job as a janitor, light exertional level as described in his testimony and unskilled. (Tr. 70).
The ALJ asked Ms. Bose to assume
a hypothetical individual the claimant's age and education with the past job that you described. I need you to further assume that this individual is limited to work with only occasional interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public. And the individual must avoid even moderate exposure to very loud noises. Can that hypothetical individual perform any of the past relevant work that you described as actually performed or generally performed in the national economy?
(Tr. 71). Ms. Bose responded yes, based on the hypothetical, such individual could perform work as a janitor as normally performed and as performed by Claimant. (Tr. 71). She further opined such individual could perform other work including medium, unskilled positions such as a laundry worker, with 4, 100 jobs in Missouri and 280, 489 available nationally; hand packer with 2, 600 jobs in Missouri and 89, 029 available nationally; and a cleaner II with 3, 100 jobs in Missouri and 110, 133 available nationally. (Tr. 72-73).
Next, the ALJ asked Ms. Bose to assume
any exertional level but limited to work that is socially isolated with only occasional supervision and with the same limitation, must avoid even moderate exposure to very loud noises. Can that hypothetical individual perform any of the past jobs, the janitor job that you described?
(Tr. 72). Ms. Bose responded there would be no change in the numbers and all the previous jobs she cited could be performed. (Tr. 72-73).
Claimant's counsel asked Ms. Bose to assume
the definition of marked means a complete inability to perform the particular activity in a normal work setting even for short periods of time? So the person would have a marked restriction on their ability to interact appropriately with the general public, work in coordination with or in close proximity to others, accept instruction, respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors and coworkers, respond appropriately to routine changes in the work setting or to routine work-related stressors, demonstrate reliability in a work setting, can sustain extended periods of employment greater than six months without decompensation - if you would assume these type of factors, would such an individual be able to perform any work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy?
(Tr. 73-74). Ms. Bose responded such individual could perform work altogether including his past relevant work. (Tr. 74).
3. Forms Completed by Claimant
In the Disability Report - Adult, Claimant reported he stopped working on February 15, 2010, because he was fired. (Tr. 190). He completed the GED in 2005 and completed computer repair training through Job Corps in 2008. (Tr. 191).
In the Disability Report - Appeal, Claimant reported his anxiety makes it difficult to be around large groups of people for extended amounts of time. (Tr. 209-13).
In the Statement of Claimant or Other Person, he certified that he has not used any illegal drugs since January 2011. (Tr. 238).
III. Medical Records and Other Records
To obtain disability insurance benefits, Claimant must establish that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act not later than the date his insured status expired - March 31, 2012. Pyland v. Apfel, 149 F.3d 873, 876 (8th Cir. 1998) ("In order to receive disability insurance benefits, an applicant must establish that she was disabled before the expiration of her insured status."); see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I) and 423(c); 20 C.F.R. § 404.131.
On May 9, 2010, Claimant sought treatment in the emergency room at Wishard Health Services after being struck by a vehicle during a suicide attempt. (Tr. 246). He reported intentionally jumping in front of a moving vehicle and not taking any medications. (Tr. 247). THC, Meth, and Oxycontin are listed as his current substance abuse, and he reported being clean for six months. (Tr. 248, 263). He reported not liking how his life is going. (Tr. 248). He was admitted as mentally ill and dangerous. (Tr. 245-80). Claimant reported moving to Indianapolis four months earlier after losing his job and moving in with a former girlfriend who has since remarried. (Tr. 261). He helps out by babysitting her daughter and completing daily household tasks. (Tr. 261, 263). After fighting with her, he became very angry and stormed out and then jumped in front of a vehicle. (Tr. 261). He reported mood swings, inappropriate anger, poor sense of self, and several attempts to avoid abandonment. He developed dependence on Oxycontin when treated for chronic back pain. He had daily meth, THC and Oxycontin use in the past. (Tr. 261).
Dr. Patibandia found Claimant to have polysubstance dependence in full remission, borderline personality traits, relationship stressors, and lack of social support system, housing, financial. (Tr. 261, 264). Dr. Patibandia noted Claimant to be suffering from depression, and his suicide attempt may have been motivated to prevent being abandoned or to gain sympathy of his ex-girlfriend. (Tr. 262). Dr. Patibandia opined if the girlfriend is willing to take Claimant back, his suicide ideation would resolve and, if not, he may need to be admitted to arrange a suitable crisis plan. (Tr. 262). Claimant was released medically after x-rays showed no broken bones. (Tr. 263). On May 11, 2010, Claimant reported feeling less depressed and receiving help with his anger management. (Tr. 277). After being prescribed Zoloft, Claimant noted he had taken Zoloft in the past, and he was glad to be prescribed the anti-depressant again. (Tr. 273). Upon discharge, he would return to Missouri escorted by his ex-girlfriend to live with his mother. (Tr. 267). At the time of discharge, he denied any suicidal ideations, had a bright affect, and looked forward to returning home. (Tr. 280).
On June 30, 2011, Claimant presented at Saint Luke's Medical complaining of depression and suicidal thoughts over the past several months. (Tr. 287). He reported he had been looking for a job, but he has trouble dealing with people and cannot function in crowded places. He reported being hospitalized three times but after leaving the hospital, he did not continue taking his medications and has been off medications for almost one year. He was admitted for treatment, and Dr. Niewald started him on Celexa. Dr. Niewald found him to be stabilized on medication as he denied any suicidal ideation. (Tr. 287). In a consultation for medical management, Dr. Niewald noted how Claimant reported being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the past, but ...