United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
DESHIA R. FUGATE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH, Magistrate Judge.
This is an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying the application of Plaintiff Deshia R. Fugate ("Plaintiff") for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. (the "Act"). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 6). Because I find the decision denying benefits was supported by substantial evidence, I will affirm the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On December 13, 2007, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she had been unable to work since December 13, 2004 due to epileptic seizures, back problems, restless leg syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, migraines, and glaucoma. (Tr. 42-43, 274-80, 281-88). Her application was initially denied. (Tr. 114-18). On February 13, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by an ALJ (Tr. 123). After a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 19, 2010. (Tr. 92-105). Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council on June 17, 2010 and the Appeals Council remanded the case to another ALJ on May 26, 2011. (Tr. 109-12) On May 17, 2012, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to March 13, 2007. (Tr. 335). After a hearing, the second ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 25, 2012. (Tr. 9, 12-27). Plaintiff again filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision with Appeals Council on July 11, 2012, with additional evidence. (Tr. 7-8). After considering the additional evidence, the Appeals Council found that it did not provide a basis for changing the ALJ's decision and declined to review the case on August 22, 2013. (Tr. 1-2). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies, and the decision of the second ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
At the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on June 11, 2012, Plaintiff testified as follows. Plaintiff was born in 1978 and has had two years of community college education. (Tr. 41-42). She is a single parent with four children and receives disability payments for two of them. (Tr. 42, 49, 54, 57). Plaintiff last worked in November 2011, preparing food in a restaurant four hours a day for about a month. (Tr. 58). At work, she got along with people okay. (Tr. 60). She did not think she would be able to perform the job eight hours a day because her legs would not be able to take it. (Tr. 65). Between 2002 and 2009, Plaintiff also held jobs as a counter worker filling drinks at a fast food restaurant, as a private care worker taking care of an elderly uncle, as a cashier, as a CNA/dishwasher/cook at a nursing home, and as an assembler at a factory. (Tr. 471-76).
Plaintiff testified that she has trouble doing ordinary day-to-day activities such as cooking, laundry, and taking out the trash because of her carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 43-44). She can lift up to 20 or 25 pounds. (Tr. 45). Plaintiff drives, but she has trouble driving (especially at night) because of her glaucoma. (Tr. 46, 57). Her vision is blurry and varies from day to day. (Tr. 46, 49). She has migraines two to three times a week. (Tr. 48). She has depression that affects her ability to do things with her kids. (Tr. 49). Her restless leg syndrome keeps her up at night. (Tr. 50). Plaintiff's mother helps her with transporting her kids, doing grocery shopping, running errands, and paying bills. (Tr. 51-52, 56-57).
Plaintiff has an extensive record of medical treatment for various mental and physical problems, including major depressive disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, migraine headaches, restless leg syndrome, pain and numbness in her extremities, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, seizures, sleeping problems, vision problems, hypertension, an ankle fracture, respiratory illnesses, and dental issues. Records of particular importance to this appeal include records from January 2005 through July 2007 showing that she received treatment for depression and anxiety from Dr. Favazza, Dr. Reddy, and others at University Hospital (Tr. 548-76); records from November 2006 through May 2008 showing that she received services at Burrell Behavioral Health for her anxiety, depression, family issues, and financial issues (Tr. 603-23, 654-61); records from October 2008 through December 2009 showing that Plaintiff received treatment for anxiety and panic attacks from Kristin Parkinson, M.D., and others at Burrell Behavioral Health (Tr. 879-98); records from February 2009 through October 2009 showing that Plaintiff received treatment for anxiety, depression, panic disorder, fluid retention, dental problems, and pain from Dr. Forest Conley, D.O., (Tr. 695-707); records from May 2007 through February 2012 showing that Plaintiff received treatment for numbness, seizures, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine headaches, anxiety, stress, panic attacks, and sleep issues from neurologist Iqbal Khan, M.D. (Tr. 709-22, 748, 919-20, 999, 1126-30); records from June 2010 through August 2012 showing that Plaintiff received treatment for depression, anxiety, and stress from psychiatrist Ahmed Taranissi, M.D. (Tr. 983-84, 1162-63, 1188-91); and records from September 2010 through April 2012 showing that Plaintiff received treatment for seizure disorder, low back pain, glucose intolerance, dental problems, osteomyelitis, acute bronchitis, chronic laryngitis, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, acute sinusitis, depression, and anxiety from her primary care physician, Denise Freidel, D.O. (Tr. 1132-61).
The record before the ALJ contained two opinions from Plaintiff's treating sources: (1) a December 30, 2009 Mental Source Statement from Dr. Parkinson indicating that Plaintiff had some moderate cognitive and social limitations (Tr. 726-27), and (2) a May 2012 letter from Dr. Freidel stating that Plaintiff "fights migraines 1-3 times per week and has to be in bed 2 hours to help them subside, " that "her severe anxiety limits her interaction with people, " and that she "can not hold a job due to her medical issues." (Tr. 1164).
The record before the ALJ also contained three opinions from nonexamining state agency consultants: (1) a February 2008 mental RFC assessment from Glenn D. Frisch, M.D., reflecting some moderate cognitive and social limitations (Tr. 624-37); an October 2010 mental RFC assessment and psychiatric review technique form from Mark Altomari, Ph.D., reflecting some moderate cognitive and social mental limitations (Tr. 1093-1114); and an October 2010 physical RFC assessment from Janie Vale, M.D., indicating that Plaintiff could lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, could stand and/or walk for about six hours in an eighthour workday, could sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday, had unlimited pushing and pulling ability, had some postural and environmental limitations, and had no manipulative or visual limitations (Tr. 1108-1114).
After the ALJ's decision, two additional opinions were submitted to the Appeals Council: (1) a June 2012 letter from treating physician Dr. Freidel stating that Plaintiff "would miss more than 14 days of work per year due to her physical and mental disabilities" (Tr. 1167), and (2) a July 2012 mental capacity assessment from treating psychiatrist Dr. Taranissi, who found that Plaintiff had numerous "marked" and "extreme" limitations in several areas of cognitive and social functioning and that those limitations had been present since March 31, 2007. (Tr. 1186-87).
III. STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY UNDER THE ACT
To be eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The impairment must be "of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(B).
To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities"; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c), 416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant has such impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
Prior to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"), which is "the most a claimant can do despite [his or her] limitations." Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). At Step Four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step Five, the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can ...