United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
BOBBIE J. RODGERS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
J. Rodgers (Plaintiff) seeks review of the decision of the
acting Social Security Commissioner, Nancy A. Berryhill,
denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance
Benefits 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
Background and Procedural History
February 5, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for
Disability Insurance Benefits. (Tr. 172-86). The application
alleged disability beginning on December 17, 2012, and was
based on the following medical conditions: back problems,
fibromyalgia pain, nerve damage, muscle spasms, diabetes,
nodules on feet, and neuropathy in feet. (Tr. 58). On May 30,
2013, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied
Plaintiff's claim, and she filed a timely request for a
hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 84-90,
91-92). In a decision dated September 17, 2014, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff “has not been under disability within
the meaning of the Social Security Act from December 17,
2012, through the date of this decision.” (Tr. 20). The
SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's subsequent request
for review of the ALJ's decision on December 15, 2015.
(Tr. 1-3). 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
appeared with counsel at the administrative hearing on August
28, 2014. (Tr. 38). Plaintiff testified that she had a
tenth-grade education, lived with her son and his
fiancée, and was last employed as a housekeeper at a
nursing home. (Tr. 42). Prior to that, Plaintiff worked as a
foster-care provider. (Id.).
testified that she suffered from three herniated discs in her
back, fibromyalgia, diabetes with neuropathy, “bad
anxiety, ” and migraines. (Tr. 42-43, 49). As a result
of these conditions, Plaintiff was only able to walk for five
to ten minutes at a time, sit for twenty to thirty minutes,
and stand in one place for “about five minutes, if
that.” (Tr. 43-44). Plaintiff stated that she had
difficulty holding anything in her left hand and that she
could carry a gallon of milk a short distance, but it
“pinches [her] back really bad.” (Id.).
Standing up too quickly also made Plaintiff's back
“pinch, ” causing her to “just fall back
down.” (Tr. 48). Plaintiff's high blood sugar
caused dizziness, nausea, and shaking. (Tr. 46). Her
neuropathy caused numbness and tingling in her legs and feet
that was painful and made standing or walking difficult. (Tr.
46-47). Plaintiff also testified that she suffered from
migraines at least three times per week, with each headache
lasting about twenty-four hours and the “symptoms
afterwards last[ing] about two days.” (Tr. 49).
said her anxiety caused physical symptoms, like shaking legs
and high blood pressure, when she was “really
nervous” or around people she did not know. (Tr. 47).
Plaintiff also stated that she suffered from depression which
caused her to “have bad thoughts” and crying
spells four to five times per week. (Id.).
testified that she had a driver's license and drove
herself “probably every two weeks” to doctor
appointments. (Tr. 44). Plaintiff could dress and bathe
herself, but her son stayed nearby while she showered because
Plaintiff had fallen several times. (Id.). As for
housework, Plaintiff stated she could do dishes, but only for
five to ten minutes at a time before she would have to sit
down, and her son or his fiancée usually cooked and
cleaned. (Tr. 44-45).
typical day, Plaintiff stated she would be “up all
hours of the night and day” and sleep when possible,
usually three to four hours at a time. (Tr. 45). She would
spend most of her time lying down watching television or
reading, sometimes visiting her sister who “live[d] in
the yard with [her].” (Id.). Plaintiff
testified that when she was lying down reading or watching
television, she was usually in her bedroom because she had
“withdrawals” and did not want to be around
people because she could not concentrate. (Tr. 48). When
Plaintiff had a migraine, she would also stay in her bedroom
because light made her nauseous and “it's really
dark in there.” (Tr. 49).
testified that she underwent back surgery “for [her]
sciatic nerve.” (Tr. 48). After that surgery, she
received two injections to treat her back pain, and her
doctor recommended trying one more before undergoing a second
back surgery that would consist of “putting a rod in
there and some screws, and try to fuse [the three lower
discs].” (Tr. 48-49).
vocational expert, Denise Weaver, also testified at the
hearing. (Tr. 50). The ALJ asked Ms. Weaver to consider a
hypothetical claimant with the same age, education, and work
history as Plaintiff who was limited to:
sedentary work with a sit/stand option, allowing the person
to sit or stand alternatively at will, provided the person is
not off task by [sic] 10 percent of the work period; no
climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional climbing
of ramps or stairs; occasional stooping, crouching, kneeling,
and crawling; must avoid all use of hazardous
machinery…and all exposure to unprotected heights.
Work is limited to simple…routine and repetitive tasks
with no strict production quota, with the emphasis being on a
per-shift rather than a per-hour basis.
(Tr. 52-53). Ms. Weaver testified that, with these
restrictions, the hypothetical individual would not be able
to do any of Plaintiff's past work, but would be able to
do other jobs existing in the national economy, such as dowel
inspector or lens inserter. (Tr. 53).
Weaver stated the additional limitations of only occasional
interaction with the general public and coworkers and no
crouching, kneeling, or crawling, would not alter her finding
that there were available jobs. (Tr. 54). However, when the
ALJ further limited the hypothetical to “be[ing] off
task by [sic] 20 percent of the day in addition to regularly
scheduled breaks[, ]” Ms. Weaver testified that these
restrictions would preclude the individual from all work.
(Id.). Ms. Weaver also stated that if the
hypothetical individual continually needed two or more
unscheduled absences a month, the individual would be
precluded from all work. (Id.). Finally, Ms. Weaver
testified that, if the individual needed to exercise the
sit/stand option every ten to fifteen minutes and it
interfered with the job, all available jobs would be
eliminated. (Tr. 56).
Relevant Medical Records
December 5, 2012, prior to the alleged onset date, Dr. Jeff
Lehmen performed a “hemilaminotomy, foraminotomy lumbar
5 to sacral 1; disc excision under microscopic
assistance” to treat Plaintiff's lower back pain.
(Tr. 322). At a follow-up appointment on December 17, 2012,
Plaintiff continued to complain of a constant ache in her
lower back and shooting pain in her right hip. (Tr. 329). Dr.
Lehmen noted that Plaintiff still rated her pain at a four
out of ten, but also noted Plaintiff's “function
and pain improved.” (Id.).
February 2013, Plaintiff met with her primary care physician,
Dr. Robert Mason, for depression and a diabetes checkup. (Tr.
346). Dr. Mason recorded that Plaintiff's back motion was
“more moderately limited[, ]” but “pain
does continue and she may need future surgery[.]”
(Id.). Plaintiff also complained of uncontrolled
levels of blood sugar and numbness in her legs and feet with
pain at times. (Id.). Dr. Mason discontinued
Plaintiff's Metformin and prescribed Lantus SoloStar
Solution, refilled Plaintiff's Tramadol and Flexeril
prescriptions, and increased Plaintiff's Neurontin. (Tr.
completed a Function Report for the SSA in February 2013.
(Tr. 228-39). Plaintiff reported she made her bed “if I
can” and washed dishes, but she only washed a few at a
time and took breaks. (Tr. 229). She stated that she did
laundry twice a week, with two or three loads taking the
entire day to complete. (Tr. 231). Plaintiff's husband
did all of the cooking because her back pain made it
difficult to stand long enough to cook. (Tr. 230, 231).
Plaintiff also reported that she could not sleep more than
two to four hours at a time because of back pain, did not go
outside frequently because she had difficulty walking and
feared falling, drove to doctor appointments, sewed for one
to two hours per week, and went grocery shopping weekly with
her husband but “sometimes” used the electric
carts or waited while her husband did the shopping. (Tr.
2013, Dr. Stephen Williamson completed a consultative exam at
the request of the SSA. (Tr. 354-59). Dr. Williamson noted
that Plaintiff “seem[ed] to be a reliable
historian.” (Tr. 354). Plaintiff reported that: her
blood glucose averaged a value of 116; she had daily low
blood sugar which caused her to be shaky, nauseous, and
sweaty; and her current diabetes symptoms included
“pain, decreased sensation in her toes, paresthesias in
her feet and hands, ulcers and retinopathy.”
(Id.). Plaintiff described “sharp pain in her
lower back on the right side[.]” (Id.).
Plaintiff also reported that repositioning helped the pain,
but lifting and bending exacerbated the problem.
Williamson observed that Plaintiff was in “obvious
discomfort from the pain in her right buttock” and had
a waddling gait, but also a normal station, did not favor one
leg, and did not require an assistive device to walk. (Tr.
356-57). He also noted that Plaintiff could move from a chair
to the examination table, maneuver to and from the supine
position, and stand on heels and toes “with some
difficulty, ” but could not squat or touch her toes.
(Tr. 358). Plaintiff's muscles had normal bulk and tone
and a four out of five strength rating. (Tr. 357). Dr.
Williamson found that Plaintiff's feet had sensory and
vibratory sensation impairments, but did not have nodules.
(Tr. 357-58). Dr. Williamson's exam revealed only ten
positive fibromyalgia pressure points, where eleven positive
points are necessary for a positive diagnosis. (Tr. 358,
364). Based on this exam, Dr. Williamson found that Plaintiff
could: sit occasionally; stand and walk occasionally; lift
and carry up to twenty pounds ...