United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Hossenlopp ("Plaintiff') seeks review of the
decision of the Social Security Commissioner, Nancy
Berryhill, denying her applications for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Social Security Income under the Social Security
The Court has reviewed the parties' briefs and the
administrative record, including the hearing transcript and
medical evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the case
is reversed and remanded.
Background and Procedural History
18, 2013, Plaintiff filed her applications for Social
Security benefits alleging that she was disabled as of April
4, 2009 as a result of: "brain tumor, lymphoma, nodule
in lung, heart issues, blackouts, bipolar, mediastinal."
(Tr. 171-74, 175, 177-82, 207). At the time of Plaintiffs
alleged onset date, she was thirty-two years of age. (Tr.
84). The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied
Plaintiffs claims, and she filed a timely request for a
hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr.
granted Plaintiffs request for review, and an ALJ conducted a
hearing on September 3, 2014. (Tr. 35-83, 120-27). Plaintiff
and her friend Johnah Roberts testified at the hearing. (Tr.
35-83). Ms. Roberts had met Plaintiff approximately four
years earlier when Ms. Roberts' friend "took
[Plaintiff] in." (Tr. 70). A vocational expert also
testified. (Tr. 73-83).
testified that she worked for about one year sitting with
hospice patients, but her employer fired her the previous
week. (Tr. 43-45). Plaintiff explained: "I was
undependable and I kept getting into it with my clients. I
have anger outbursts." (Tr. 45). She submitted to the
ALJ a letter from her former employer that stated Plaintiff
was late "almost half the time[.]"(Tr. 45). When the
ALJ asked why Plaintiff was frequently late to work, Ms.
Roberts answered, "The smallest things ... aggravates
[sic] her. She will - when her ADHD gets her confused and she
can't get the medications that she need because she
doesn't have Medicaid or anything . . . ." (Tr. 46).
Plaintiff explained that, when she has access to medication,
"they help, but they don't help 100 percent."
testified that she was seeking Social Security benefits
because "[e]very job that I've tried to get, I try
and then I get fired or I lose my temper or - [Dr. Boyd]
doesn't even want me driving because somebody will cut me
off and my instinct in my head says, 'Get out and say
something to them, ' so I do and then they get mouthy and
then I'll hit the windshield or just -she just said I put
myself in danger, but I don't try to. It just
happens." (Tr. 52). Plaintiff stated that she did not
have a therapist but "whenever I was homeless and I
stayed at Salvation Army they gave me a counselor that I
could talk to for free." (Tr. 52).
the ALJ asked Plaintiff about her chest pains and
"nodule, " she explained, . "I haven't
gone back [to the doctor] because I haven't - my Medicaid
stopped . . . ." (Tr. 56). Plaintiff stated she
continued to smoke about a half-pack of cigarettes per day.
('Id.'). Plaintiff testified that she
suffered daily headaches, for which she took Naproxen and
ibuprofen. (Tr. 60).
testified that she was 5'8" and weighed 243 pounds.
(Id.). Although she was not actively trying to lose
weight, she was surprised that her weight was not decreasing
because a side effect of her medication was loss of appetite
and she only ate "one time a day[.]"
(Id.). When the ALJ questioned Plaintiff about her
sleep hygiene, she answered, "[W]hen it's time to go
to sleep, I can't sleep. I have nightmares of, like, the
past when I was younger and being abused and locked in a
basement and then I just be up worrying about that and
thinking about that and then I'll fall back asleep and
have more nightmares and then I just end up staying up and
then I'm tired the next day." (Tr. 61).
Roberts stated that Plaintiff could lift "[p]robably
about 30 to 35 pounds." (Tr. 61). Plaintiff testified
that she was able to mow the "small" front yard,
but her brother mowed the backyard, because it was larger.
(Tr. 62). Plaintiff did not think she could return to school
because "with the anger and just, like, the little
things that irk me, I don't really think I could sit in
the classroom.. .and having to deal with the.. .deficit
disorder, the authority problem, I just -1 don't really
think I can do it." (Tr. 64).
regard to her education, Plaintiff testified "I went to
a special school district. I have a learning disability so I
kept getting kicked out of school for my behaviors and - my
behavior and my mouth, so then they put me in -1 got
suspended for 180 days . . . but they let me go to some
alternative school in Brentwood, Missouri .... and that's
how I graduated[.]" Plaintiff stated she also had
difficulties with "flashbacks" and "I just
like, kind of like, shut down and, like, do my own
things." (Tr. 66). Plaintiff spent time in jail
because she stole from a woman whose house she used to clean.
decision dated February 3, 2015, the ALJ applied the
five-step evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a) and found that Plaintiff
"has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from April 4, 2009, through the date of
this decision[.]" (Tr. 18-28). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the severe impairments of "chest pain
possibly related to asthma, feet arthritis [sic], obesity,
headaches, and mental impairments sometimes characterized as
mood disorder, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder ('ADHD'), or personality disorder[.]"
(Tr. 21). Additionally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following non-severe impairments: sleep apnea, hypertension,
hypothyroidism, and degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 21). In
regard to other claimed conditions, the ALJ found that
Plaintiffs "brain tumor is not a medically determinable
impairment" and, while the record shows Plaintiff
received treatment for lymphadenopathy, "a February 2011
scan showed a decrease in the size and number of lymph
nodes." (Tr. 21).
reviewing Plaintiffs medical records and Plaintiffs and Ms.
Roberts' testimony, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiffs "statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not
entirely credible[.]" (Tr. 26). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
perform medium work . . . where the claimant lifts or carries
50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, stands or
walks for six of eight hours during the workday, and sits for
six of eight hours during the Workday. The claimant's
work is limited to simple, unskilled (SVP 1 or 2) work, with
no public contact work, and no more than occasional and
superficial contact with supervisors and co-employees.
(Tr. 23). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform
past relevant work, but that Plaintiff could perform other
jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy and was, therefore, not disabled. (Tr. 27-28).
filed a. request for review of the ALJ's decision with
the, .SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on June 19,
2015. (Tr. 1-6, 8). Plaintiff has exhausted all
administrative remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as
the SSA's final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530
U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
Standard of Review
must affirm an ALJ's decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
"Substantial evidence 'is less than a preponderance,
but enough so that a reasonable mind might find it adequate
to support the conclusion.'" Cruze v.
Chater, 85 F.3d 1320, 1323 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Boerst v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 249, 250 (8th Cir. 1993)).
In determining whether the evidence is substantial, a court
considers evidence that both supports and detracts from the
Commissioner's decision. Pate-Fires v. Astrue,
564 F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009). However, a court
"do[es] not reweigh the evidence presented to the ALJ
and [it] defer[s] to the ALJ's determinations regarding
the credibility of testimony, as long as those determinations
are supported by good reason and substantial evidence."
Renstrue v. Astrue, 680 F.3d 1057, 1064 (8th Cir.
2012) (quoting Gonzales v. Barnhart. 465 F.3d 890,
894 (8th Cir. 2006)).
after reviewing the record, the court finds it is possible to
draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of
those positions represents the ALJ's findings, the court
must affirm the ALJ's decision." Partee v.
Astrue, 638 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Goff v. Barnhart. 421 F.3d 785, 789 (8th Cir.
2005)). The Eighth Circuit has repeatedly held that a court
should "defer heavily to the findings and
conclusions" of the Social Security Administration.
Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010);
Howard v. Massanari. 255 F.3d577, 581 (8th Cir.
claims that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's determination of her RFC because the ALJ failed to
properly consider: (1) the severe impairments of obesity and
headaches; and (2) the medical opinion evidence
concerning Plaintiffs mental limitations. The Commissioner
counters that, in formulating the RFC, the ALJ properly
considered Plaintiffs severe impairments, credibility, and
medical opinion evidence.
argues that the ALJ erred because, despite finding that her
obesity was a severe impairment, the ALJ did not factor the
resulting limitations into the RFC. In response, the
Commissioner asserts that the ALJ properly considered
Plaintiffs obesity and its ...