United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JOHN A. ROSS, UNITED STATES 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 Kakiesha Jones' ("Jones") application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq.
On November 3, 2010, Jones filed her application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. (Tr. 121-126) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Jones' application on April 13, 2011. (Tr. 53-59) She filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on May 11, 2011. (Tr. 62-64) Following a hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on September 28, 2012, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 7-27) Jones requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 6) On December 20, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Jones' request for review. (Tr. 1-5) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
Jones filed this appeal on January 29, 2014. (Doc. 1) The Commissioner filed an Answer. (Doc. 10) Jones filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint. (Doc. 17) The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. (Doc. 21) Jones filed a Reply Brief. (Doc. 22)
II. Decision of the ALJ
As a preliminary matter the ALJ denied Jones' counsel's request to include Jones' previous SSI children's benefits file in the record. The ALJ found that because "the application before the undersigned is not a cessation of child's benefits case, I will only consider those exhibits that address the relevant time period and are pertinent to the claimant's current application as an adult." (Tr. 10) This decision and any records addressing the prior file will be discussed in more detail below.
The ALJ determined that Jones has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 3, 2010, the application date. (Tr. 12) The ALJ found Jones has the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning/mild mental retardation, depressive disorder, and posttraumatic stress 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. (Id.)
After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Jones has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work, except that, due to a mental impairment, she is limited to unskilled work. (Tr. 14) Further, she should not perform work that includes more than infrequent handling of customer complaints. (Id.) The ALJ found Jones able to perform the past relevant work as a fast food worker, Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") code 311.472-010, a specific vocational preparation ("SVP") of 2, light. (Tr. 20) Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of "not disabled" was appropriate. (Tr. 22) Jones appeals, arguing a lack of substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision.
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 August 30, 2012. The ALJ heard testimony from Jones and Teresa A. McClain, a vocational expert. (Tr. 28-49)
1. Oral Motion for Jones' Prior File
At the hearing, prior to any testimony, Jones' counsel indicated that the exhibits were missing information about the grounds for Jones' prior SSI children's benefit allowance. Specifically, "The Exhibit 2E, page one, does indicate that on November 8th, 2007, claimant was approved for SSI benefits, but nowhere else in the file does it indicate why or why the benefits stopped." (Tr. 31) The ALJ thereafter disclaimed responsibility for the file, stating "So, counsel, the record is your responsibility." (Id.) To which counsel replied that this part of the file was not his responsibility and that he believed the ALJ had access to the file. (Id.) The ALJ indicated that the file needed to be requested prior to the hearing. (Id.) Jones' counsel replied that it was normal practice for the file to be exhibited at the hearing office but that he was not aware which judge was assigned to the case. (Id.) The ALJ responded that counsel should have made a generalized request, that she did not have access to that information, and that he should put his request in writing. (Tr. 32) The hearing then proceeded with Jones' testimony.
2. Jones' testimony
At the time of the hearing, Jones was living alone with her daughter. (Tr. 33) When asked the age of her daughter, she could not remember but guessed that she was maybe five or six months. (Id.) She does not remember how she met the father of her child. (Tr. 44) Her godmother, Ms. Cheryl Wilson, lives in the same apartment complex. (Tr. 42) Ms. Wilson is over every day. (Id.) Ms. Wilson sometimes takes Jones' daughter for the weekend. (Id.)
Jones has a 12th grade education. (Tr. 34) She needed help in high school with her classes. (Tr. 35) When asked whether she had taken classes over the computer or by correspondence, she responded that she did not know what that means. (Tr. 34) She is currently in school. (Tr. 35) When asked what she was taking, she responded that she was working with kids. (Id.) The ALJ followed-up with "So is this a daycare provider training?" And she responded in the affirmative. (Id.) She indicated that she was getting tutoring and help with completing her classes because she had difficulty understanding. (Id.) She was unsure about how many more classes she had to complete the degree. (Id.)
Jones does not have a computer. (Tr. 43) She does not read. (Id.) She watches some TV but does not know what's going on. (Id.) She does not listen to music because she does not like loud noises. (Id.) She does not belong to any clubs or organizations. (Id.) She goes to church every week with her godmother. (Id.) She does not participate in any church activities. (Id.) She is "not a people person" and she does not like being around people. (Id.)
She had not done any babysitting or elder care either in her home or the home of another person for payment. (Tr. 36) She has not ever received unemployment benefits. (Id.) She has never been in prison or jail. (Id.) She does not have any DUIs or DWIs. (Id.) She has not been through detox or ...