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Arnold v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

August 29, 2016

TAMMY ARNOLD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE, 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 Tammy Arnold's ("Arnold") application for disability insurance benefits.

         I. Background

         Arnold filed an application for disability benefits on August 24, 2011. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Arnold's application for benefits, and she filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The SSA granted Arnold's request and a hearing was held on September 17, 2013. The ALJ issued a written decision on December 13, 2013, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 6-18). Arnold filed a timely Request for Review of Hearing Decision with the Appeals Council (Tr. 5). The Appeals Council denied Arnold's Request for Review. (Tr. 1-3). The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000). Arnold filed this appeal on May 8, 2015. (ECF No. 1). Arnold filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint on August 11, 2015. (ECF No. 11). The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on October 5, 2015. (ECF No. 14).

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ found that Arnold had the following severe combination of impairments: bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and history of marijuana abuse. (Tr. 11). The ALJ, however, determined that Arnold did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 13). The ALJ found that Arnold had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels except for performing more than simple, routine, repetitive tasks with no more than superficial interaction with the public or co-workers and no more than occasional changes in routine work setting. (Tr. 14). The ALJ found that Arnold has no past relevant work. (Tr. 16). The ALJ determined that, based on Arnold's RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Arnold could perform. (Tr. 17). Consequently, the ALJ found that Arnold was not disabled since August 24, 2011, the date the application was filed. (Tr. 17).

         III. Administrative Record

         The following is a summary of relevant evidence before the ALJ.

         A. Hearing Testimony

         Arnold testified on April 11, 2013, as follows:

         Arnold appeared at the hearing without representation. (Tr. 26-27). The ALJ did not have any medical evidence since March 2011. (Tr. 27-28). Arnold stated that she has been seeing her regular primary doctor every month since March 2011. (Tr. 28). Arnold decided that she needed representation to continue pursuing her claim. (Tr. 30-33).

         Arnold testified on September 17, 2013, as follows:

         Arnold's attorney stated that Arnold has anxiety attacks at least twice a week. (Tr. 39). Arnold has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, suicidal ideations, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and has crying spells. (Tr. 39). She has hypothyroidism, which causes weight gain and lethargy. (Tr. 39). She has high blood pressure, which causes her to get dizzy. (Tr. 39). She takes two medications a day. She gets headaches about twice a week. (Tr. 39).

         Arnold was born in 1965 and is 48 years old. (Tr. 40). The highest grade she has completed was Eighth grade, and she did not get a GED. (Tr. 40). She was in regular classes, not special education. (Tr. 40). She can read. (Tr. 40). She can perform basic math. (Tr. 40). She has a driver's license. (Tr. 41). She has not driven for two years because she gets nervous. She lives with her daughter. (Tr. 41). She is 5'1" and weighs 180 pounds. (Tr. 41). She has not worked anywhere since August 24, 2011. (Tr. 41). She has mental problems. She was sexually and physically abused when she was younger. (Tr. 41). Her brother had intercourse with her and she was abused by her children's father. (Tr. 42). She has nightmares three times a week and flashbacks that cause panic attacks. (Tr. 42). She has panic attacks twice a week on average. (Tr. 41-42). The panic attacks last 30-40 minutes, when she feels like she cannot breathe. (Tr. 43). She takes Klonopin for panic attacks. (Tr. 43). She was prescribed Klonopin by Dr. Corwin at Ripley County. (Tr. 43). Dr. Corwin left the Ripley County office. Arnold she sees a different doctor at Ripley County at least once a month for medication. (Tr. 43-44).

         She has been diagnosed as bipolar, which causes her to be unable to concentrate. (Tr. 44). She gets depressed. She has manic episodes where she bounces around from one activity to the next. (Tr. 44). Sixty percent of the time she is in a deep depression; she is manic thirty percent of the time; and she is normal ten percent of the time. (Tr. 44). Her medication helps prevent her from being extremely depressed. (Tr. 44). She has no side effects from medication. (Tr. 45).

         Physically, she gets out of breath trying to do things. (Tr. 45). She has problems with her thyroid, which causes her weight gain, makes her tired, and causes her to become easily agitated. (Tr. 45). She takes medication to regulate her thyroid. (Tr. 45). She takes medication to control her high blood pressure. She has had panic attacks for a few years. (Tr. 46).

         Arnold lives with her daughter in a house. (Tr. 46). She helps her daughter with the cooking. Arnold can sweep and mop "when the mood hits [her]." (Tr. 47). She does not go to the grocery store "if [she] can get out of it." (Tr. 47). She has a friend that will take her to the grocery store. (Tr. 47). She has no outside activities. (Tr. 47). She watches whatever is on television. (Tr. 47). She cannot concentrate on what is on TV. (Tr. 47). Dr. Corwin has not recommended that Arnold see a counselor. (Tr. 48). She has been taking Klonopin every day for a couple of years. (Tr. 48). She is not taking Xanax any more. (Tr. 48). She takes Celexa for her depression. (Tr. 48). Arnold is alright physically. (Tr. 48-49). Her educational level would prevent her from working because she cannot comprehend reading very well. (Tr. 49).

         She cannot cook or clean on a consistent basis. (Tr. 49). She has times that she is so depressed that she cannot perform any household work. (Tr. 50).

         Vocational expert Roxane Minkus testified as follows:

         The first hypothetical person would be the same age as Arnold, with a limited eighth-grade education and no past work experience. (Tr. 51). This individual would be limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and would be unable to perform tasks requiring more than a superficial interaction with the public or coworkers. (Tr. 51-52). The individual would be unable to deal with more than occasional changes in a routine work session. (Tr. 52). This individual would have no external limitations. (Tr. 52). This individual could perform work as a janitor, house cleaner for a hotel or motel, and as an industrial cleaner. (Tr. 52-53).

         The second hypothetical person would have the same limitations as the first hypothetical person, except the individual would have less than occasional contact with the general public and coworkers. (Tr. 53). The second hypothetical person would still be able to perform work as an industrial cleaner and a house cleaner. (Tr. 53). However, about 30-40% of the janitor positions would require more interaction with the general public and coworkers. (Tr. 53-54).

         The third hypothetical person would have the same limitations noted in hypotheticals one and two, except would have the additional limitation of no contact with the public or coworkers. (Tr. 54). No jobs would be available for such a person that had to work in isolation. (Tr. 54).

         No jobs would be available for a person who would be off-task 20 percent of the time because of psychological problems. (Tr. 54).

         B. ...


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