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Wallis v. Colvin

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

January 23, 2017

KELLY WALLIS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This action is before the court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff Kelly Wallis for disability insurance benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 and 1381 et seq. The parties have consented to the exercise of plenary authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the defendant Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on November 28, 1970. (Tr. 30). She filed her applications for benefits in October 2011. (Tr. 93, 161). She alleged an onset date of disability of January 14, 2011, due to seizure disorder, left shoulder numbness, and back and hip pain. (Tr. 214). Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on February 7 and 8, 2012 (Tr. 93-101, 106-112). Thereafter, she requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 113).

         On May 19, 2014, following a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 20-32). The Appeals Council denied her request for review on September 1, 2015. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1).


         On February 4, 2011, neurologist Bashar Mohsen, M.D. performed a follow-up medical examination of plaintiff for her seizures. Plaintiff denied having symptoms of depression, suicidal ideations, hallucinations, or memory loss. (Tr. 323). Dr. Mohsen noted that plaintiff did not appear nervous or anxious; appeared oriented to person, place, and time; and did not appear to be distressed. Id.

         On October 17, 2011, plaintiff started reporting being anxious and depressed. (Tr. 338-40). However, Dr. David Lardizabal, M.D., noted she continued to display a normal affect, normal judgment and insight, and fluent speech, and she did not appear to be distressed. (Tr. 338-40). She also appeared alert and oriented to person, place, and date. (Tr. 340). She could recall remote events and follow multi-step commands. Id. The doctor assessed her with a mood disorder, generalized anxiety, and nightmares. Id.

         On February 1, 2012, plaintiff visited James Felts, M.D., for a well-woman examination and reported having panic attacks first thing in the morning. (Tr. 365). The doctor prescribed her anti-anxiety medication, but noted she did not appear to be distressed and recommended she return one year later. (Tr. 365-66).

         On February 7, 2012, Steven Akeson, Psy.D., reviewed plaintiff's file. (Tr. 93-97). He did not perform a consultative examination, but he found that plaintiff's mental conditions were not severe impairments and only mildly restricted plaintiff's daily living; social functioning; and concentration, persistence, or pace. Id.

         On June 4, 2012, plaintiff reported having panic attacks three times a week. (Tr. 368). Dr. Felts continued to indicate she did not appear in distress. (Tr. 368). The doctor diagnosed plaintiff with panic disorder with agoraphobia and prescribed her an anti-depressant. (Tr. 368).

         Plaintiff's symptoms appeared to be managed beginning July 2012. (Tr. 370, 372, 376). During appointments on July 2, 2012; August 15, 2012; November 7, 2012; and May 15, 2013, Dr. Felts continued plaintiff's medication for depression and anxiety, but noted she consistently appeared to not be in distress. (Tr. 370, 372, 376).

         On September 13, 2013, plaintiff returned to Dr. Felts for an evaluation for depression, and reported feeling sad, crying, having panic attacks, and generally not wanting to go anywhere for the last few months. (Tr. 378). She also stated that she had situational stress due to taking care of her husband's grandmother “24/7.” (Tr. 378). The doctor noted she did not appear in distress but diagnosed her with depression and panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Tr. 378). Dr. Felts prescribed anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. (Tr. 379).

         On October 7, 2013, plaintiff reported being in a better mood, and that she went to a wedding and car races “without problem.” She still reported being anxious when she went to Walmart. She continued to report being stressed due to caring for her husband's grandmother. Dr. Felts noted she appeared in no acute distress, but increased her anti-depressant medication and continued the anti-anxiety medication. (Tr. 380).

         On November 13, 2013, plaintiff reported her moods were better and she was able to go to Walmart, but she still had situational stress because her grandmother was up at night. Dr. Felts noted she did not appear to be in distress but prescribed a sleep aid. (Tr. 382).

         The treatment records reflect that the only functional restriction her treating providers imposed was that she could not drive or ride her husband's motorcycle due to her seizures, not her depression. (Tr. 29, 69, 382, 388).

         Plaintiff's Testimony at the ALJ Hearing

         On January 7, 2014, plaintiff, then 43 years old, appeared and testified to the following at a hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 39-92).

         Plaintiff complained of daily “overwhelming” panic attacks with increased heart rate, racing thoughts, and an inability to sleep. Id. She complained that her panic attacks affect her ability to concentrate, though she is able to work through panic attacks to prepare breakfast and get her husband and son out of the door because “[i]t's only for a half hour, and I have to.” (Tr. 59-61, 79).

         Following a seizure, plaintiff testified she may become “kind of wishy-washy in the head” for 24 to 36 hours. (Tr. 75). She can become groggy and forgetful and may slur her words or say them backwards, though she is still able to follow and understand a story plot when watching TV. (Tr. 75, 79).

         Finally, plaintiff stated that she does not want to go anywhere and becomes anxious when shopping at Wal-Mart, but admitted that she shops at Wal-Mart weekly with her sister. (Tr. 46, 60, 74).

         Despite these complaints, plaintiff acknowledged that on a bad day, she could still make breakfast daily, pack her husband's and son's lunches, do the laundry, watch TV, get her son a snack after school, cook “Hamburger Helper” or chicken and dumplings for dinner, attend her son's baseball games during the summer, wash dishes by hand, text and talk to others on her cell phone, and sometimes help her son with his homework. (Tr. 59-67). She noted that over several good days, she vacuums, dusts, mops and sweeps for hours at a time. (Tr. 54-55). Though she described a need to lie down often, this appeared to be due to pain rather than depression or anxiety. (Tr. 55, 66-67).

         Examination of the ...

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