United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Martin (Plaintiff) seeks review of the decision of the Social
Security Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, denying her
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security Act.
Because the Court finds that substantial evidence supports
the decision to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial
of Plaintiff's applications.
Background and Procedural History
21, 2013 and June 6, 2013, Plaintiff completed applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income. (Tr. 285-91, 292-97). These claims were
based on the following medical conditions with an alleged
onset date of October 24, 2012: degenerative bone disease,
back injury, arthritis, hernia, seizures, sinus problems,
posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and borderline
personality disorder. (Tr. 313-14). The Social Security
Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims on October
30, 2013, and Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing
before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 217-18, 359).
The SSA granted the request and held a hearing on May 7,
2014. (Tr. 129-80, 227).
July 24, 2014 decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
“has not been under a disability, as defined in the
Social Security Act, from October 24, 2012, through the date
of this decision[.]” (Tr. 124). Subsequent to the
ALJ's decision, Plaintiff presented to the SSA Appeals
Council several medical records from examinations that
occurred after the ALJ issued his decision. (Tr. 8-105). The
Appeals Council reviewed the records and concluded that the
new information did not pertain to the relevant time period.
(Id. at 2). Therefore, the Appeals Council found the
post-ALJ decision evidence did “not affect the decision
about whether [she was] disabled beginning on or before July
24, 2014, ” and the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (Id.). Plaintiff
has exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's
decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision.
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
The Administrative Proceeding
Testimony at Hearing
7, 2014, Plaintiff appeared with counsel at an administrative
hearing. (Tr. 129). Plaintiff testified that she was
fifty-two years old, five feet five inches tall, 160 pounds,
and right-handed. (Tr. 134-35). She further testified that
she left high school after completing her junior year, but
later earned a GED and a certificate in “secretarial
and business.” (Tr. 136). Plaintiff stated she most
recently worked at a cash register and stocked shelves at a
store. (Id.). She had been performing this work
between eighteen and thirty hours per week “for a
couple months, ” before she sustained a work-related
injury on October 24, 2012. She had not looked for any work
since sustaining the work-related injury. (Tr. 137-38).
Plaintiff testified that, prior to working at the store, she
was periodically employed with cleaning companies over a span
of thirty years. (Id.).
stated that she suffered from a seizure disorder, high blood
pressure, arthritis and cramps in the right hand, “a
little” arthritis in the left hand, lumbar back pain
stemming from degenerative bone deterioration, “sinosis
[PHONETIC], psychotic [PHONETIC] nerve damage, [and] bulging
discs.” (Tr. 138-39). She also suffered: migraine
headaches, which lasted half a day and occurred four to five
times per month; pain in her neck, shoulders, and hands;
lower back pain that felt like someone was “breaking my
back or punching me”; and leg pain when walking. (Tr.
164-66). Plaintiff estimated that she could lift less than
four pounds, walk for one ten-minute period per day, stand
for one ten-minute period per day, and sit in a chair for ten
to fifteen minutes per day. (Tr. 167-68). Plaintiff testified
she did not drive because she did not have a license and her
seizure disorder prevented it, but if she did, she would have
problems steering a car and controlling the foot pedals. (Tr.
testified that she had a referral for, but had not yet seen,
a pain management specialist for her back. (Tr. 142). The
only specialist Plaintiff had seen for her back injury was at
a Concentra Clinic about one year prior to the hearing. (Tr.
142-43). Plaintiff stated this visit was arranged
“through worker's comp[ensation]” after the
October 2012 work-related injury. (Id.). The doctor
performed an MRI, and Plaintiff completed several months of
physical therapy, which Plaintiff stated did not help the
pain. (Tr. 144). Plaintiff also saw a general practitioner
approximately every two months who prescribed her
medications, checked her blood pressure, and referred her to
the pain management specialist. (Tr. 141-42). None of
Plaintiff's doctors placed restrictions on her
activities. (Tr. 146).
time of the hearing, Plaintiff was taking medication for high
blood pressure, “Pantropozol [PHONETIC] sodium, Norvac
[PHONETIC], Proloprosine [PHONETIC], ” Tramadol, and
Amotrax.” (Tr. 147-48). Plaintiff testified that she
began taking Amotrax after her last seizure to help prevent
migraines. (Id.). Plaintiff stated the medications
caused her to suffer constant fatigue, nausea, and
“shakes[.]” (Tr. 149). Plaintiff also testified
that she had not used marijuana or cocaine since the age of
twenty, but had occasionally taken a friend's
prescription pills about one year prior to the hearing. (Tr.
typical day, Plaintiff awakened between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00
a.m., ate, took her medications, and spent the rest of her
morning in bed. (Tr. 150-51). After lunch, Plaintiff usually
returned to her bed, where she read or watched television
until her boyfriend returned from work around 6:00 p.m. (Tr.
155). The two ate dinner, and Plaintiff tried to sit in a
chair as long as possible before her back pain forced her
back to bed. (Tr.155-56). Some days, Plaintiff's
boyfriend dropped her off at her mother's house on his
way to work, and she would visit with her mother and watch
television until her boyfriend picked her up around 6:00 p.m.
testified that washing dishes was difficult because her hand
hurt “really bad and start[ed] cramping.” (Tr.
151). She stated she could manage small loads of laundry by
herself, vacuum with her left hand, and go to the grocery
store with someone else and lean on the cart. (Id.).
Plaintiff's exercise regimen consisted of yoga and
stretching. (Tr. 158). Plaintiff also testified that she was
able to take five-minute showers, wash her hair, and dress
herself sitting on the bed. (Tr. 156).
vocational expert, Tim Shaner, also testified at the hearing.
(Tr. 176). Mr. Shaner stated that both of Plaintiff's
past jobs, cleaner and cashier, were classified as unskilled,
and “light exertion, both generally and as
performed.” (Tr. 177). The ALJ asked Mr. Shaner to
consider a hypothetical individual:
limited to light work that can be learned in 30 days or less.
Only frequently climb ramps and stairs. Occasionally stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl. Never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds, or balance. Must avoid concentrated exposure to
loud noise, vibration, and hazards.
(Id.). Mr. Shaner testified that such an individual
would be able to perform both of Plaintiff's past jobs.
(Id.). When the ALJ added to the hypothetical
“only occasional contact with the general public,
” “no more than occasional changes in the work
environment, ” and no “strict production pace
rate[, ]” Mr. Shaner ruled out the job of cashier.
Relevant Medical Records
Asif Qaisrani, a psychiatrist, treated Plaintiff from July
2011 until July 2012. (Tr. 385-98). In July 2011, Dr.
Qaisrani noted that Plaintiff was a “questionably
reliable” historian. (Tr. 391). Dr. Qaisrani diagnosed
Plaintiff with cocaine dependence in remission,
post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality
disorder, and a chronic backache. (Tr. 393). At an
appointment with Dr. Qaisrani in September 2011, Plaintiff