United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
E. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court for review of an adverse ruling by
the Social Security Administration (SSA). The Court has
reviewed the parties' briefs and the entire
7, 2010, plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application
for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits.
(Tr. 125). The plaintiff also filed a Title XVI application
for supplemental security income on June 23, 2010. (Tr. 125).
In both applications, plaintiff alleged disability beginning
November 9, 2008. (Tr. 125). These claims were denied
initially on August 30, 2010, and upon reconsideration on
September 3, 2010. (Tr. 125). Thereafter, plaintiff filed a
timely written request for hearing on September 20, 2010.
(Tr. 125). In a hearing decision issued on October 17, 2011,
plaintiff was found not disabled by an Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 137).
March 5, 2013, plaintiff protectively filed a Title II
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. (Tr. 19). The plaintiff also protectively
filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security
income on March 5, 2013. (Tr. 19). In both applications, the
plaintiff alleged disability beginning January 27, 2012. (Tr.
19). These claims were initially denied on June 6, 2013.
Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a written request for hearing
on June 13, 2013. (Tr. 19). The plaintiff appeared and
testified at a hearing held on December 2, 2013. (Tr. 19). In
a hearing decision issued on January 15, 2015, plaintiff was
found not disabled by an ALJ. (Tr. 30). The Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision on February 3, 2016. (Tr. 1).
Evidence Before the ALJ
Prior Explanation of Determination
August 27, 2010
August 27, 2010, plaintiff was examined by Myra Belshe, a
disability examiner for the Social Security Administration.
(Tr. 121). Belshe noted that plaintiff was a
forty-two-year-old with ten years of education alleging
disability due to depression and a rash. Belshe reviewed
reports from Phelps County Regional Medical Center, Hugh
Schuetz, and Community Care Clinic. Belshe determined that
plaintiff retained the ability to perform work such as a
cleaner/preparer, odd-piece checker, laundry worker, and
Disability Report - Field Office
Disability Report dated March 11, 2013, plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of January 27, 2012. (Tr. 263-274).
Plaintiff stated that he suffered from depression, bipolar
disorder, carpal tunnel, and degenerative osteoarthritis.
Plaintiff reported that he stopped working on November 11,
2009 when he was laid off from his job, and he believed his
condition became severe enough to keep him from working on
January 27, 2012. Plaintiff had completed the ninth grade; he
did not attend special education classes and he had never
completed any specialized job training or vocational school.
Plaintiff noted that he had received medical treatment for
both physical and mental conditions and was taking a number
of medications for depression, pain, sleep disorder, mood
disorder and to relax his muscles.
Function Report - Adult
March 20, 2013, plaintiff completed a Function Report. (Tr.
275-285). When asked about his daily activities, plaintiff
reported that he is in pain all day. His daily activities
consisted of eating meals, watching television, and taking
his medicine. Plaintiff noted that his condition impacts his
sleep, but he did not explain how. Plaintiff also noted that
his condition impacted his ability to dress and shave once a
month, his ability to bathe and care for his hair three times
a month, and his ability to feed himself and use the toilet
daily. Plaintiff stated that he needed special reminders to
take his medicine and to take care of his personal needs and
grooming. Plaintiff stated that he was able to prepare full
meals and he did so daily.
reported that he was able to mow the grass and do laundry for
about one hour at a time. He stated that he never goes
outside during the winter and only goes outside during the
summer when he has to mow the lawn. Plaintiff had a valid
driver's license but was unable to drive because of
“DWI's.” (Tr. 283). Plaintiff went shopping
for about two hours each month. Plaintiff stated that he is
able to pay bills, count change, handle a savings account,
and use a checkbook and money orders. His ability to handle
money had not changed since his condition began.
reported that his hobbies were watching television and
working with his hands, but he no longer engages in them.
Plaintiff stated that he socializes with others once or twice
a month at his home. Plaintiff stated that he does not have
any problems getting along with others. Plaintiff also stated
that since his condition began he gets angry faster, his
hands hurt, and sometimes he does not want to be around other
people. He reported that he needed to be reminded to go
places and needed someone to accompany him.
asked about his physical abilities, plaintiff stated that his
condition affects his lifting, reaching, memory, and
concentration. Plaintiff could lift no more than five pounds
and could walk for half a mile before needing to rest.
Plaintiff was able to follow written instructions and to
fully complete tasks. Plaintiff stated that he can follow
spoken instructions when he can comprehend what is being
asked. He reported that he had problems with memory and
concentration. Plaintiff also stated that he gets along well
with authority figures and has never been fired for failing
to get along with others. He reportedly did not handle stress
well but was able to adequately handle changes in routine.
Plaintiff concluded by stating that his hands and neck hurt
constantly and that he feels worthless all of the time.
Function Report - Third Party
function report was completed by DeLaura Shipley,
plaintiff's fiancée on March 23, 2013. (Tr. 286).
Shipley lived with plaintiff and has known him for seven
years. She stated that plaintiff's activities included
watching television, playing computer games, walking around
the block, and playing with the dog. Shipley stated that
plaintiff used to cook but no longer wanted to do so since
the onset of his condition. His household chores consisted of
mowing the lawn. Plaintiff also helped with shopping.
also noted that plaintiff's sleep was affected as he was
“up and down all night.” (Tr. 287). He needed to
be reminded to take his medications and to take care of his
hair. Shipley stated that plaintiff is able to pay bills,
count change, and use a checkbook or money order, but he is
slower handling money since the onset of his condition.
stated that plaintiff does not spend time with others and
does not go anywhere regularly because he does not like to be
around people. (Tr. 290). She also stated that plaintiff has
trouble getting along with people and he gets very nervous,
distant, and moody.
stated that plaintiff's condition impacts his ability to
understand, use his hands, follow instructions, complete
tasks, and get along with others, as well as his memory and
his concentration. She stated that plaintiff can follow
written instructions but does better with spoken
instructions. Shipley also stated that plaintiff is usually
able to get along with authority figures. She noted that
plaintiff had been fired or laid off from a job because of
issues getting along with individuals because they were
“being a smart ass” to plaintiff. (Tr. 292).
Shipley also stated that plaintiff does not handle stress
well but can adequately handle changes in routine.
stated that she had noticed unusual behavior or fears when
plaintiff gets mad or moody. She reported that plaintiff had
wanted to “do himself in” on several occasions.
Work History Report
April 4, 2013, plaintiff completed a work history report.
(Tr. 294). Plaintiff worked as a laborer in a factory from
2004 to 2005, as a chop saw operator in a saw mill from 2005
to 2006, as a laborer in a factory from July 2007 to October
2008, as a temporary worker through a temporary service
provider during 2008, and as a laborer at a factory in 2009.
Disability Report - Appeals
June 21, 2013 disability report, plaintiff stated that his
bipolar disorder and carpal tunnel had gotten worse. (Tr.
314-325). Plaintiff stated that he had no new physical or
mental limitations, nor did he have any new illnesses,
injuries, or conditions. Plaintiff reported that he had been
seen by Dr. Akbar Choudhary for carpal tunnel, degenerative
osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea and was treated with therapy
and medication. Plaintiff also stated that he had been
treated for bipolar disorder and given medication.
reported that he had been given sleeping medicine, medication
for depression, a mood stabilizer, a muscle relaxer, and pain
medication. All of the medications caused drowsiness or
dizziness. Plaintiff also reported that he had not completed
any type of special job training or any vocational
rehabilitation, employment or other support services.
Mental Residual Functional Capacity
August 26, 2010, a Mental Residual Functional Capacity
Assessment was conducted by Barbara Markway, Ph.D. (Tr.
342-344). Dr. Markway found that plaintiff retained the
ability to understand and remember simple instructions, that
he could maintain adequate attendance, and that he could
sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision. She
reported that plaintiff could interact adequately with peers
and supervisors and that he could adapt to most changes
common to a competitive work setting.
Markway also conducted a Psychiatric Review Technique on the
same date. (Tr. 345-355). She noted that plaintiff suffered
from depression and alcohol abuse. Dr. Markway concluded that
plaintiff required mild restriction of activities of daily
living and no limitation related to repeated episodes of
decompensation. She further concluded that plaintiff required
moderate limitations based upon difficulties in maintaining
social functioning, as well as difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace.
Disability Determination Explanation
Disability Determination Explanation was conducted by Sarah
Jones, a disability adjudicator/examiner, on June 4, 2013.
(Tr. 148-161). Jones noted that plaintiff initially filed for
disability due to depression, bipolar disorder, carpal tunnel
and degenerative osteoarthritis and an inability to function
and/or work as of January 27, 2012. It was also noted that
the plaintiff had not performed any work after the alleged
onset date. Jones reviewed evidence from Thomas Spencer,
Psy.D, Midwest CES, Rolla Neurology Pain and Sleep, Community
Care Clinic, and Phelps County Regional Medical Center,
plaintiff's work history, and other evidence provided
through the administrative process.
reported that plaintiff had severe carpal tunnel syndrome,
severe osteoarthrosis and allied disorders, severe affective
disorders, and severe alcohol and substance abuse disorders.
She found that plaintiff had mild restriction of activities
of daily living, moderate difficulties in maintaining social
functioning, moderate difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence or pace, and one or two repeated
episodes of decompensation - each of extended duration. Jones
found that plaintiff's statements were substantiated by
the objective medical evidence and that his medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to
produce pain. In evaluating the plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (RFC), Jones noted that plaintiff did
have exertional limits and that plaintiff could occasionally
lift and/or carry fifty pounds. Jones further noted that
plaintiff could stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour
workday, sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and
could push or pull for an unlimited amount of time. Jones
stated that plaintiff had an occasional posture limitation
when climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. Jones also
stated that plaintiff had limited right overhead manipulative
limitations. No visual or communicative limitations were
found. In terms of environmental limitations, Jones found
that plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to
vibrations and hazards, such as machinery and heights.
found that plaintiff had no understanding or memory
limitations. His sustained concentration and persistence
ability was not significantly limited, with the exception of
the ability to carry out detailed instructions, which was
determined to be moderately limited. Jones determined that
plaintiff had limited ability to interact appropriately with
the general public. Jones concluded that plaintiff was not
September 16, 2011
hearing conducted on September 16, 2011, plaintiff testified
in response to questions posed by the ALJ and counsel. (Tr.
82-119). Plaintiff was 43 years old at the time of the
hearing and had completed ninth grade. Plaintiff had not been
in special education classes but he mainly received Ds and Fs
in school. Plaintiff lived in a house with his fiancée
and her fifteen-year-old daughter; plaintiff did not have any
children of his own.
testified that the last time he worked was November 9, 2009.
From 1990 through 1995, plaintiff worked as an interior and
exterior house painter, a job that required lifting up to 35
pounds. Plaintiff also worked as a “band and brand
picker, ” which involved taking bands out of charcoal
and removing unburnt wood from kilns. (Tr. 86). After a
number of absences, plaintiff stopped going to work
altogether. He testified that he believed he was going to be
laid off “for missing so many days.” (Tr. 87).
Plaintiff explained that his frequent absences were due to
his inability to “deal with people” at work. (Tr.
88). However, he acknowledged that his job as house painter
was mostly solitary work. Plaintiff worked as a line operator
at a pipe factory for three years. He testified that he was
terminated after he turned down a promotion to senior line
operator. Plaintiff explained that he refused the job because
he didn't feel that he could do it.
testified that he found it difficult to get out of bed at
least three or four times a week. On those days, he
doesn't shower or take care of himself. He does get up to
eat because his medication has to be taken with food.
testified that he first sought treatment in 2010 after his
fiancée found him with a gun in his mouth. Plaintiff
was admitted to a hospital for ninety-six hours but declined
to be placed in a rehabilitation program. Plaintiff stated
that he had been sober for more than a year, and that he went
to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings once a week. At the time of
the hearing, plaintiff was taking Lithium, Celexa, and
Vistaril for his mental health problems, and Percocet,
Naproxen and Baclofen for his neck and back pain. Plaintiff
stated that when he takes Vistaril and Lithium, he can sleep
for four to six hours. However, he claimed he was unable to
sleep six or seven times a month despite taking the
medicines. Plaintiff testified that he has a low energy level
because the Lithium makes him feel sleepy and tired. He also
described hand tremors which his therapist believed to be a
side effect of Lithium. Plaintiff stated that, with the
medication, his condition had improved since his suicide
attempt in 2010, but he still had suicidal ideation. He
testified that he had developed a suicide plan but never
acted on it. Because of his suicidal urges he had to get rid
of his guns.
stated that he first stopped drinking alcohol at age 16 but
resumed when he was 18. At the time of his suicide attempt in
2010, plaintiff had been sober for three years. However, he
did drink on the day before the attempt.
stated that he had become irritable since he stopped
stated that, except for going to Alcoholics Anonymous
meetings and doctor appointments, he rarely leaves his house.
He does chores around the house but ...