United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Coleman (“Plaintiff”) seeks review of the
decision of the Social Security Commissioner, Nancy
Berryhill, denying her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental 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 8, 2012, Plaintiff filed applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income alleging
that she was disabled as of October 20, 2011 as a result of
“back and neck problems, ” migraine headaches,
degenerative disc disease, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 52,
237-45, 246-51). 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.
granted Plaintiff's request for review, and an ALJ
conducted hearings on December 2, 2013 and March 18, 2014.
(Tr. 43-51). On December 2, 2013, Plaintiff failed to appear
for the hearing,  and the ALJ proceeded with the vocational
expert's testimony. (Id.). The vocational expert
stated that Plaintiff was a licensed practical nurse who also
had work experience as a certified medical technician and
certified nursing assistant. (Tr. 47-48). The ALJ asked the
vocational expert to consider a hypothetical individual with
Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience and the
following limitations: “able to do light work with no
climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasional climbing
of ramps or stairs; occasional stooping, crouching, kneeling
and crawling; frequent handling of objects bilaterally;
frequent fingering of objects bilaterally; must avoid
concentrated exposure to excessive noise…, hazardous
machinery, …and unprotected heights.” (Tr. 48).
The ALJ added that: “The work is limited to simple, as
defined in the DOT as SVP levels 1 and 2, routine and
repetitive tasks with no strict production quota, with the
emphasis being on a per shift rather than a per hour
basis.” (Id.). The vocational expert testified
that such person could not perform Plaintiff's past work,
but could perform the jobs of a cashier, inspector/hand
packager, and housekeeper. (Tr. 48-49).
the ALJ added to his hypothetical a limitation to occasional
fingering and handling, the vocational expert stated that
such individual could perform the jobs of information clerk
and cashier, “but in a limited environment, such as
parking booths and parking garages where there's not a
constant steady stream of customers or cashiering
activity.” (Tr. 49). The vocational expert testified
that, if the hypothetical individual were further limited to
sedentary work, the only available job for such person would
be surveillance system monitor. (Tr. 50). Two or more
unscheduled absences per month or the need to take two or
more unscheduled breaks in a workday would “preclude
work at all exertional levels.” (Id.).
appeared at the hearing on March 18, 2014 and testified that
she was born on February 26, 1972, had completed two years of
college, and lived with her twenty-one-year-old son. (Tr.
34-55). The ALJ observed that Plaintiff arrived with a
walker, and Plaintiff stated that Dr. David Myers prescribed
it for her. (Tr. 35-36). Plaintiff testified that she was
currently taking Percocet, morphine, Tramadol, and a muscle
relaxer for her back pain. (Tr. 36). She also took Prozac,
valium, and Depakote. (Tr. 38). Plaintiff rated her average
pain level at six out of ten, and she had last seen her
doctor at the pain clinic the previous day. (Tr. 37, 38).
testified that she suffered a migraine “at least every
other week.” (Tr. 38). Plaintiff's migraines
generally lasted “about a day, day-and-a-half, but the
aftermath is about two days.” (Tr. 40). When
experiencing a migraine, she would take medicine,
“[t]hrow a pack of ice on my head, make sure it's
dark in the room, no noise.” (Id.). When she
was able to “catch [the migraine] soon enough”
and take her medication, her migraine would subside about six
hours later. (Tr. 40-41). Plaintiff explained, “if I
[sic] keep getting stronger and overtime, Dr. [Choudhary]
does a spinal tap . . . and pulls the fluid off.” (Tr.
testified that she had difficulty dressing and bathing
herself, but stated she was able to do so “as long as
I'm hanging on.” (Tr. 38-39). Plaintiff last drove
her car about two months prior. (Tr. 39). She was able to do
“a little” housework, such as dusting and
laundry, but a caregiver did her dishes. (Id.).
Plaintiff explained that a caregiver, provided by Disabled
Citizens Alliance, Inc., came to her house five days per week
for two and a half to three hours. (Tr. 40).
decision dated May 28, 2014, the ALJ applied the five-step
evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920 and determined that Plaintiff “has
not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from October 20, 2011, through the date of this
decision[.]” (Tr. 10-22). The ALJ found that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: disorder of the back;
migraine; carpal tunnel syndrome; anxiety; and depression.
reviewing Plaintiff's medical records and testimony, the
ALJ found that “medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms;
however, the claimant's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms
are not entirely credible for the reasons explained in this
decision.” (Tr. 15). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:
Perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps or stairs. She
can occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl. She can
handle objects, that is gross manipulation, bilaterally and
on an occasional basis. She can finger, that is fine
manipulation of items no smaller than a paper clip,
bilaterally on an occasional basis. She must avoid
concentrated exposure to excessive noise. She must avoid all
use of hazardous machinery and all exposure to unprotected
heights. Her work must be limited to simple, as defined by
the DOT as SVP levels 1 and 2, routine tasks, and repetitive
tasks. She cannot be subject to strict production quotas; the
emphasis must be on a per shift rather than per hour basis.
(Tr. 14). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not perform
past relevant work, but she could perform the jobs of
information clerk or “cashier II in a limited
environment such as parking garages[, ]” and was,
therefore, not disabled. (Tr. 21-22).
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on August 10, 2015.
(Tr. 30, 1-6). 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
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.
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.3d 577, 581 (8th Cir.
claims that substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's determination of her RFC because the ALJ: (1)
improperly weighed the medical opinion evidence; and (2)
failed to consider Plaintiff's need for an assistive
device. (ECF No. 18). In response, Defendant asserts that the
ALJ properly considered the medical opinion evidence and
adequately accounted for Plaintiff's credible limitations
in determining her RFC. (ECF No. 23).
Medical opinion evidence
argues that, in creating her RFC, the ALJ erred in assigning
too little weight to the opinion of her primary care
physician, Dr. David Myers, and too much weight to that of
Dr. Nancy Ceaser, a non-examining state agency consultant.
Defendant counters that the ALJ provided good reason for
assigning Dr. Myer's opinion limited weight and properly
assigned significant weight to Dr. Ceaser's opinion.
determining a claimant's RFC, the ALJ is required to
consider the medical opinion evidence of record together with
the other relevant evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(b), 416.927(b). Unless the ALJ assigns controlling
weight to a treating physician's opinion, the ALJ must
explain the weight given to every medical opinion of record,
regardless of its source. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(c), 416.927(c). Because the ALJ weighs each medical
opinion in light of the entire record, the Court will
summarize the relevant medical evidence.
voluminous medical records reflect that, in April 2007, when
she was thirty-five years of age, a drunk driver struck her
vehicle head-on. (Tr. 628-31). An ambulance transported
Plaintiff to an emergency room, where doctors treated her for
spinal pain, a closed head injury, and a ...