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Johnson v. Colvin

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

September 30, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Callie Ginnise Johnson's (“Johnson”) applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq.

         I. Background

         On May 15, 2012, Johnson filed applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. (Tr. 215), and for SSI benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§1381, et seq. (Tr. 207-219). In both applications, Johnson alleged disability beginning March 1, 2012 (Tr. 207, 213). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Johnson's claims on July 2, 2012 (Tr. 109). Johnson filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on September 7, 2012 (Tr. 115). After a hearing held on February 11, 2014 (Tr. 54-88) and continued to June 10, 2014 (Tr. 29-53), the ALJ issued a written decision on June 19, 2014, upholding the denial of benefits (Tr. 7-23). Johnson requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 24-28). On August 13, 2015, the Appeals Council denied her request for review (Tr. 1). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

         Johnson filed this appeal on September 23, 2015 (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an Answer (Doc. 10). Johnson filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint (Doc. 14), and the Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer (Doc. 20). Johnson did not file a Reply Brief.

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Johnson meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2014, and had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since March 1, 2012, the alleged onset date of disability (Tr. 12). The ALJ found that Johnson had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, obesity, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and substance dependence, 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 (Tr. 12-13).

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Johnson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except for the following nonexertional limitations: can sit for six of eight hours per day; can stand and walk for six of eight hours per day; can lift 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and is limited to simple, repetitive tasks with one-to-two step instructions and occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the public (Tr. 12-14). The ALJ found Johnson unable to perform any past relevant work; however, based on her age, education, work experience, and residual function capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Johnson can perform, including bench assembler and nut and bolt assembler (Tr. 18-19). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Johnson had not been under a disability from the alleged onset date of March 1, 2012 through the date of his decision, June 19, 2014 (Tr. 19).

         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 February 11, 2014, which was continued to June 10, 2014. The ALJ heard testimony from Johnson; Matt Lamply, a vocational expert[1]; and Charles Auvenshine, Ph.D., a psychological expert.

         1. Johnson's testimony

         Johnson was 31 years old at the time of the hearing and living with her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son (Tr. 60-61). She completed the tenth grade and has no further training or education (Tr. 63-64). Johnson enrolled in GED preparation classes in January 2014, and was attending those classes three times per week (Tr. 35, 64, 71, 75). Johnson does not have a driver's license (Tr. 62). She testified that she has not worked since 2011 (Tr. 64).

         It was Johnson's testimony that her ability to work was affected after she was diagnosed with psychiatric disorders in March 2012 (Tr. 67-68). On a typical day, Johnson gets up at 7:00 in the morning. She usually takes her son to school, returns home, and frequently goes back to sleep until it is time to pick up her son at 3:00 in the afternoon (Tr. 68, 70). She does housework, including cooking, laundry, washing dishes, and cleaning. She goes grocery shopping once per month (Tr. 69). Johnson has friends, but stays home “90 percent of the time” (Tr. 68). She is not active in any clubs or organizations, and she does not attend church (Tr. 70).

         Johnson had a drinking problem for several years; she had abstained from alcohol for the eight months preceding the February 2014 hearing and had not consumed alcohol between the February and June 2014 hearings (Tr. 36, 73, 81). She stopped drinking because she “had an episode where [she] had been drinking, and [her] children looked like demons to [her], ” and she was “afraid [she] might hurt them” (Tr. 73). She attends weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (Tr. 71, 86).

         Johnson has twice been hospitalized for treatment of her psychiatric conditions: she was first hospitalized after she attempted suicide at age fourteen, and she was later hospitalized when she experienced psychotic tendencies while detoxifying from alcohol (Tr. 76-77). Johnson also has depression and anxiety, and she has experienced panic attacks in the past (Id.). She testified that she had been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and that she suffers from depression, anxiety, and recurring nightmares (Tr. 35-36, 68, 76-79, 82). Johnson takes Seroquel, an antipsychotic and antidepressant, which makes her groggy and tired, and limits her ability to focus (Tr. 74, 86-87). She testified that she has flashbacks related to her PTSD, that she does not retain information as well as she did when she was younger, that she does not handle stressful situations very well, and that she has difficulty completing big tasks (Tr. 34, 84-85).

         At the time of the February 2014 hearing, Johnson was undergoing chiropractic treatment for chronic back pain caused by previous car accidents, and she completed those treatments in May 2014 (Tr. 32, 79). She testified that she can stand or walk for ten minutes at a time before she needs to sit down; that she can only do housework in ten-minute increments; that she suffers unbearable pain with bending and standing; and that she could lift and carry at most fifteen pounds (Tr. 33, 80). She also experiences pain with stooping, crouching, kneeling, and crawling (Id.).

         2. Testimony of Psychological Expert

         Charles Auvenshine, Ph.D., a psychologist, was appointed by the ALJ as an independent psychological expert. Dr. Auvenshine reviewed Johnson's medical records and testified at the hearing (Tr. 42, ...

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