United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Fears (“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 Act. 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
February 14, 2013, Plaintiff, then age fifty-three, filed her
applications for Social Security benefits alleging that she
was disabled as of December 31, 2012 as a result of
“stress, anxiety, learning disability; arthritis in
knees.” (Tr. 91, 190-96, 197-202). The Social Security
Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims, and she
filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative
law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 124-28, 130-31).
granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ
conducted a hearing on March 17, 2014. (Tr. 31-70). At the
hearing, Plaintiff testified that, after being homeless for
about one and a half years, she obtained housing through the
Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of
Developmental Disabilities. (Tr. 34). Plaintiff stated that
she most recently worked about three to three and a half
hours per day for a woman “down the street.” (Tr.
40-41). Plaintiff quit because the woman “was mad at
the world or something - got mad at everybody. Start
screaming.” (Tr. 42).
noted that Plaintiff's work history reflected
“self-employment 2006 to 2011. Cleaning.” (Tr.
42). When he inquired about the types of places she cleaned,
asking, “was it in offices, was it in restaurants?,
” she answered, “Hallways and stuff. Mainly a lot
of hallways, just hallways.” (Tr. 43). According to
Plaintiff, that employer let her go and hired “a guy
with a license.” (Id.). Plaintiff never had a
driver's license because she “tried it, but I never
could pass [the test].” (Tr. 44). When Plaintiff took
the driver's test, someone assisted her with the reading,
“but they just kept going so fast that - I just walked
out the door.” (Id.). Plaintiff also had
experience cleaning tables at a restaurant, but could not
work a register. (Tr. 45). Plaintiff had never worked a
full-time job and required help reading. (Tr. 44, 61).
regard to her medications, Plaintiff testified that she took
“anxiety medicine for anxiety and depression. And my
asthma medicine and Seroquel, ” and “[a]spirins
and stuff for my knees.” (Tr. 46). Plaintiff testified
that the medication she was taking for her mental health
helped and she visited a therapist at Grace Hill every three
months. (Tr. 47-48).
the ALJ asked Plaintiff what she did on a typical day, she
answered, “I sit outside on my steps.” (Tr. 50).
She testified that her son took her to the grocery store and
she did laundry at a friend's house down the street. (Tr.
51). Plaintiff's case worker drove her to the hearing and
also assisted her with paperwork. (Tr. 52, 53). Another case
manager, named Elizabeth, helped Plaintiff with
“housing and stuff for my housing” and
“paperwork and stuff also.” (Tr. 54).
regard to social interaction, Plaintiff testified that
“a church lady friend….comes around, ” and
Loving Care Church provided her with “coats, clothes,
shoes” and “help[ed] out a little bit with food
and stuff, bread, potatoes, rice.” (Tr. 55). One of
Plaintiff's sons had died, but her two surviving sons
visited her about once a month. (Tr. 56). Plaintiff lived
alone, and she cleaned her bathroom two or three times per
week. (Tr. 56, 65). When the ALJ asked Plaintiff whether she
raised her children “on [her] own, ” she answered
only: “I had a lot of problems raising them in poverty,
you know, it was hard.” (Tr. 65).
the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel observed that Plaintiff
had “been looking off to the side at the wall the
entire time” rather than at the judge. Plaintiff
explained, “I've never experienced any of this
stuff before.” (Tr. 54). She later acknowledged
“getting annoyed with [his] questions.” (Tr. 57).
testified that she did not remember her childhood.
(Id.). When Plaintiff's counsel asked the
highest grade she completed, she replied, without answering
the question, “Little [Humboldt] it's special
school - special education.” (Tr. 57). In an effort to
present evidence relating to Plaintiff's education,
Plaintiff's counsel asked what age she dropped out of
school, and Plaintiff answered, “I think I was 16, I
had a kid.” (Tr. 58). Because Plaintiff's
applications for benefits and testimony suggested that, at
age sixteen, she was only in eighth or ninth grade,
Plaintiff's counsel asked how many times she was
“held back.” (Id.). Plaintiff asked
“What do you mean held back?, ” and he clarified,
“How many times did you repeat a grade?”
(Id.). Plaintiff answered, “Yea, never
happen[ed], I don't remember that.” (Id.).
vocational expert (VE) also testified at the hearing. (Tr.
59-64). The ALJ asked the VE to consider a hypothetical
individual with limited education who was approaching
advanced age and was limited to light work and work that was
“low stress, ” meaning “with only
occasional decision making or occasional changes in the work
setting, ” and work that “requires no interaction
with the public and occasional interaction with
coworkers.” (Tr. 61-62). The VE testified that such
person would be capable of performing Plaintiff's past
relevant work as a cleaner, as well as the positions of hand
packer, production worker, and housekeeper. (Tr. 62).
However, if such individual were to miss three or more days
of work per month, “the individual would soon be
terminated.” (Id.). Likewise, if the
individual were limited to no contact with the public or
coworkers, there would be no work available. (Tr. 63).
Finally, the VE testified that, if the individual,
“even when limited to the simple and routine tasks[,
]… make[s] errors and require[s] supervisory
intervention an additional five times per work day for the
purpose of redirection, repeating instructions, how to fill
out forms, et cetera, ” she would be terminated. (Tr.
close of evidence, the ALJ noted that the medical evidence
was “not particularly persuasive” and inquired
what counsel “would ask me to do to further develop
this case.” (Tr. 64). Plaintiff's counsel requested
a psychological evaluation with IQ testing, and the ALJ
responded, “Frankly, counsel, I consider the IQ testing
a waste of time.” (Tr. 64-65). The ALJ explained:
Again I not only have to have low IQ, I have to have deficits
in adaptive functioning, she's practically 55 years of
age. She's worked off and on, she's - you now, I just
don't have any reason to believe she's mentally
retarded. I mean, there's just no evidence of it. I
don't have any doubt she's mentally disabled I know
without doubt maybe she's a low IQ, but I don't have