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Hunt v. Colvin

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

September 28, 2016

JOANNA MARIE HUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          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 Joanna Marie Hunt's (“Hunt”) application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq.

         I. Background

         On July 13, 2012, Hunt protectively filed her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., alleging disability beginning on June 25, 2012. (Tr. 262-63) The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Hunt's claim on September 6, 2012. (Tr. 190-94) She filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on October 25, 2012. (Tr. 199-200) Following a hearing held on October 21, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision on November 20, 2013, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 11-25) Hunt requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 7) On May 20, 2015, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. 1-6) Thus, the decision of the Appeals Council stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).

         Hunt filed this appeal on July 22, 2015. (Doc. No. 1) The Commissioner filed an answer on September 28, 2015. (Doc. No. 9) Hunt filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint. (Doc. No. 11) The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. (Doc. No. 12) Hunt filed a Reply Brief. (Doc. No. 13)

         I. Administrative Decisions

         A. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Hunt meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 25, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 15)

         The ALJ found Hunt has the severe impairments of affective disorder not otherwise specified (NOS), anxiety disorder NOS, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but that no impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 17) The ALJ further found Hunt's additional medical impairments of cardiac impairment, seizure disorder, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome, were nonsevere impairments. (Tr. 15-16)

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Hunt has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except that she can never climb ladders, rope or scaffolding. She can climb ramps or stairs up to one story at a time. She should avoid working with dangerous machinery or at unprotected heights. In addition, she can perform simple tasks and tolerate superficial contact with the general public. (Tr. 19) The ALJ found Hunt unable to perform any past relevant work, but that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform, such as cleaner/housekeeper, marking clerk, and small products assembler. (Tr. 23-24) Thus, the ALJ found that a finding of “not disabled” was appropriate. (Tr. 25)

         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 October 21, 2013, and heard testimony from Hunt and Roni Lenore, a vocational expert. (Tr. 30-73)

         1. Hunt's testimony

         Hunt was 36 years old at the time of hearing and living with her boyfriend and her fifteen year old twin sons. (Tr. 34-35) She last worked in June 2012 as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), staff coordinator and activities director at Elder Care of Mid-Missouri. It was Hunt's testimony that she was out on a doctor's note that said she couldn't work. (Tr. 41, 45) In 2008 she worked as CNA staff coordinator at Lifecare Centers of America. (Tr. 42-44) In 2004 she managed a fast food restaurant called Taco Time. (Tr. 43) She also worked some part-time jobs at Walmart and Denny's. (Tr. 43-44)

         Hunt testified that she was unable to work primarily due to her psychological symptoms, impairments and limitations. Specifically, she reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with severe emotional reactions, i.e., crying, shaking, etc., two to three times a week. (Tr. 46) These reactions are caused by fear of other people, and particularly her abusive ex-husband. (Id.) Hunt has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder which affects her interactions with other people. She experiences symptoms of manic behavior, poor sleep, and poor concentration. She goes into a manic stage two to three times a week. When she is in one of the depressive stages of her bipolar disorder, she sleeps all of the time. (Tr. 48-49) She neglects her personal hygiene when she finds herself in a depressive state. (Tr. 61) Hunt also testified about the symptoms she experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, sleep apnea, fainting spells, hand tremors and lingering tightness in her chest following an alleged heart attack. (Tr. 49-57)

         Hunt's family assists her with household chores because she drops things and can't concentrate to finish a task. (Tr. 57-58) She is able to cook on a daily basis; however, it sometimes takes her an extra half hour or longer because she forgets about cooking things. (Tr. 60-61) Hunt testified she has difficulty leaving her house or traveling alone due to her fears and psychological symptoms. (Tr. 59-60)

         2. Testimony of Vocational Expert

         Vocational expert Roni Lenore characterized Hunt's past work as nurse assistant, Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) No. 355.674-014, medium, semiskilled, with a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) of 4, performed as heavy. This job was also performed as part of a composite, which also included recreational therapist, DOT No. 074.124-014, light, skilled with an SVP of 6; personnel scheduler, DOT No. 215.367-014, sedentary, semiskilled, with an SVP of 4; and personnel clerk, DOT No. 209.362-026, sedentary, semiskilled, with an SVP of 4. (Tr. 68) Hunt's past work also included fast food worker, DOT No. 311.472-010, light, unskilled, with an SVP of 2; and manager trainee, fast food services, DOT No. 189.167-018, light, skilled, with an SVP of 6. (Id.) Lastly, Lenore characterized Hunt's work as a storage laborer, DOT No. 922.687-058, as medium, unskilled, with an SVP of 2; and waiter/waitress, informal, DOT No. 311.477-030, as light, semiskilled, with an SVP of 3. (Tr. 69)

         For the first hypothetical, the ALJ asked Lenore to assume an individual of the same age, educational background and vocational history as Hunt who has no exertional limitations and can climb ramps or stairs of up to one story; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; never work at unprotected heights or with dangerous machinery; with relatively simple tasks and superficial contact with the public. Lenore opined that such an individual could perform his/her past work as a storage laborer. (Tr. 69) In addition, there are other jobs that exist locally and nationally that such an individual could perform such as a cleaner/housekeeper, DOT No. 323.687-014, light, unskilled, with an SVP of 2, with approximately 292, 600 such jobs nationally and 5, 200 locally; marking clerk, DOT No. 209.587-034, light, unskilled, SVP of 2, with approximately 140, 700 such jobs nationally and 2, 800 locally; and assembler, small products, DOT No. 739.687-030, light, unskilled, SVP of 2, with 34, 400 nationally and 630 locally. (Tr. 69-70)

         The second hypothetical assumed the same individual as in hypothetical one, who is limited to light work, i.e., lifting up to 20 pounds occasionally, lifting or carrying up to 10 pounds frequently, standing or walking for approximately six hours per eight-hour day and sit for approximately six hours per eight-hour day with normal breaks. (Tr. 70) In that case, the individual could perform the same jobs discussed above. (Id.)

         The third hypothetical assumed the same individual with the same functional capacity as in the second hypothetical who would miss two or more days of work per month and be off-task 20 percent or more of the work day. Lenore opined that such an individual would not be able to retain any job. (Id.)

         B. Medical Records

         The ALJ summarized Hunt's medical records at Tr. 15-21. Relevant medical records ...


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