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Anderson v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

TAMMY LYNN ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] 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 Tammy Lynn Anderson's (“Anderson”) 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 September 26, 2012, Anderson protectively filed applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. (Tr. 157-161), and for SSI benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. (Tr. 162-169), alleging disability due to arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, bipolar disorder, and neck, back, hip, knee, and hand pain (Tr. 188). Anderson initially alleged disability beginning September 15, 2002, but later amended her alleged disability onset date to May 11, 2012 (Tr. 157, 162, 183). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Anderson's claims on December 21, 2012 (Tr. 61-85). Anderson filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 104-108). After a hearing held on March 20, 2014 (Tr. 45-60), the ALJ issued a written decision on May 21, 2014, upholding the denial of benefits (Tr. 22-44). Anderson requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council (Tr. 16-18). On August 7, 2015, the Appeals Council denied her request for review (Tr. 1-7). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

         Anderson filed this appeal on October 9, 2015 (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an Answer (Doc. 11). Anderson filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint (Doc. 14), the Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer (Doc. 24), and Anderson filed a Reply Brief (Doc. 25).

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Anderson met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2016, and had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since May 11, 2012, the alleged onset date of disability (Tr. 25, 27). The ALJ determined that Anderson had the following severe impairments: migraine headaches, diffuse arthralgias, residuals of left ulnar nerve transposition, degenerative changes of the cervical and lumbar spine, degenerative changes of the knees, early osteoarthritis of the thumbs, and a personality disorder (Tr. 28). The ALJ further found 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. 28-30).

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that Anderson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with the following additional limitations: can never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb stairs and ramps; can occasionally stoop, kneel, and crouch; can occasionally use the left upper extremity for handling or gross manipulation; and must avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and vibration (Tr. 30). The ALJ further noted that Anderson is able to understand, remember, and carry out at least simple instructions and perform non-detailed tasks (Id.).

         The ALJ found that Anderson had no past relevant work which rose to the level of substantial gainful activity; however, based on her age, education, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Anderson can perform, including furniture rental consultant and school bus monitor (Tr. 37-38). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Anderson had not been under a disability from the amended alleged onset date of May 11, 2012 through the date of his decision, May 21, 2014 (Tr. 38).

         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 March 20, 2014. The ALJ heard testimony from Anderson and Delores Gonzalez, a vocational expert.

         1.Anderson's testimony

         Anderson was 47 years old at the time of the hearing (Tr. 47). She completed high school and attended beauty school (Id.). She testified that she has never worked full-time (Tr. 48). It was Anderson's testimony that she suffers from neck, head, lower back, knee, wrist, and shoulder pain (Tr. 49, 54). She had recently been evaluated by an orthopedic specialist and a rheumatologist (Id.). She had also undergone injections in her thumbs, but they helped only for a couple of weeks (Tr. 49, 55). She also had injections in her shoulder, which provided relief for two weeks; injections in her left elbow, which helped for a month and a half; and injections in her sacroiliac joint, which helped for approximately a week before exacerbating her pain (Tr. 56). On November 15, 2013, she had surgery on her left elbow to treat numbness in her fingers (Tr. 49-50, 52-53). Anderson testified that the surgery helped with the numbness in her left hand, but that she still experiences tingling and an intense, achy pain in both hands due to carpal tunnel syndrome (Tr. 50-53). When she sits, Anderson experiences neck, back, and sometimes shoulder pain (Tr. 54). According to Anderson, she can only sit for 30 to 45 minutes at a time because of her back, neck, and shoulder pain; after that, she needs to stand up and move around for 5 to 10 minutes before she can sit again (Id.). If she stands longer than 30 minutes, she feels pain in her lower back and knee; she then needs to put her leg up on a stool to take the pressure off of her back (Tr. 55).

         Anderson explained that she gets migraines two to three times per week for eight to ten hours at a time (Id.). She takes medication for her migraines, and it helps sometimes (Tr. 51). Anderson also testified that she suffers from knee pain, that she has had injections in both her knees, and that she has swelling in her left knee. She has also had fluid removed from each knee (Tr. 51). Anderson testified that she has been fired from several jobs because her migraines caused her to miss work too frequently (Tr. 53-54).

         Anderson further testified that she has a psychological problem that affects her ability to concentrate, her ability to make decisions, and her ability to deal with problems (Tr. 52). Anderson has abused alcohol in the past, but had not consumed alcohol since November 2011 (Id.).

         2. Testimony of Vocational Expert

         For the first hypothetical, the ALJ asked vocational expert, Delores Gonzalez, to assume an individual of Anderson's age, education, and work history with the following limitations: lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand or walk 6 out of 8 hours; sit for 6 out of 8 hours; occasionally climb stairs and ramps; never climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds; occasional handling and gross manipulation; avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and vibrations; and able to carry out at least simple instructions and non-detailed tasks (Tr. 57). Ms. Gonzalez opined that such an individual would be able to work as a furniture rental associate, Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) No. 295.357-018, rated as light, unskilled and SVP 2, with 840 such jobs available locally and 50, 808 nationally (Id.). Ms. Gonzalez further opined that such an individual would be able to work as a callout operator, DOT No. 237.367-014, rated as sedentary and unskilled, with 77 such jobs locally and 8, 316 nationally (Tr. 58). She also opined that such an individual could work as a school bus monitor, DOT No. 372.667-042, rated as light, unskilled and SVP 2, with 840 jobs locally and 74, 470 nationally (Id.).

         For the second hypothetical, the ALJ added a sit/stand limitation, such that the person could “manage positions every 30 minutes, ” but must be able to sit, stand or walk for a total of 8 hours per workday (Tr. 58). Ms. Gonzalez opined that such an individual would still be able to work as a furniture rental consultant or school bus monitor (Id.). For the third hypothetical, the ALJ asked Ms. Gonzalez to assume the same limitations as the first hypothetical but with the added limitations that the person could lift 10 pounds occasionally, less than 10 pounds frequently, stand or walk 2 out of 8 hours, and sit for 6 out of 8 hours (Id.). Ms. Gonzalez opined that such an individual could work as a callout operator, or as an addresser, DOT No. 209.587- 010, rated as sedentary, unskilled, and SVP 2, with 214 such jobs locally and 8, 904 nationally (Tr.58-59).

         Anderson's counsel then asked whether an employer would tolerate the hypothetical person taking unscheduled breaks, due to her pain, such that she would be off task 20 percent of an 8-hour workday; Ms. Gonzalez responded that such breaks would likely not be tolerated and such a person would have trouble maintaining competitive employment (Tr. 59). Counsel then asked whether any of the jobs she had proposed would tolerate a person consistently missing three workdays per month. Ms. ...


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