United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
M. BODENHAUSEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court for review of an adverse ruling by
the Social Security Administration. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United
States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
January 2014, plaintiff Rochelle Lashay Quarles filed an
application for supplemental security income, Title XVI, 42
U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., with an alleged
onset date of August 28, 2013. (Tr. 138-46). After
plaintiff's application for benefits was denied on
initial consideration (Tr. 84-88), she requested a hearing
from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 91-93).
and counsel appeared for a hearing on September 15, 2014.
(Tr. 26-69). Plaintiff testified concerning her disability,
daily activities, functional limitations, and past work. The
ALJ also received testimony from vocational expert Delores
Gonzalez, M. Ed. The ALJ issued a decision denying
plaintiff's applications on November 4, 2015. (Tr. 9-25).
The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review
on October 20, 2016. (Tr. 1-3). Accordingly, the ALJ's
decision stands as the Commissioner's final decision.
Evidence Before the ALJ
Application Documents, Education Records, and Hearing
was born on November 30, 1990, and was 22 years old when she
filed her application. She received special education
services as a student and graduated from high school in May
2010. (Tr. 176). According to IEP documents prepared in
December 2009, (Tr. 168-93), plaintiff was diagnosed with
emotional disturbance (somatization and poor interpersonal
relationships); specific learning disabilities (written
expression, math calculation, and math reasoning); and
language impairment (semantics and pragmatics). Her medical
diagnoses were Cluster B personality traits, panic disorder,
depression, and agoraphobia. (Tr. 169). She was placed in
regular education classes at least 80 percent of the time.
(Tr. 173). According to a “re-evaluation”
completed on December 1, 2008, plaintiff's cognitive
abilities were in the borderline range, with a Verbal IQ of
69, a Performance IQ of 80, and a Full Scale IQ of 72. (Tr.
170). In addition to academic problems related to her
learning diagnoses, plaintiff had poor self-confidence and
self-image, had difficulties developing and maintaining peer
relationships, manifested anxiety as physical symptoms, and
struggled to maintain self-control when angry or upset. (Tr.
169). Although plaintiff's goal was to attend a two-year
college, the IEP team identified a number of barriers,
including difficulty completing required coursework at a
passing level, maintaining self-control when frustrated, and
difficulty working with peers. Id. It was the
opinion of the team that she was best suited for a career in
the service industry. (Tr. 170).
attended St. Louis Community College between fall 2010 and
spring 2014, with a one-year break after the 2012 spring
semester. (Tr. 263). She received accommodations in spelling
and math, and was given preferential seating, a volunteer
note-taker, audio recordings of lectures, and extended time
to take her exams in a reduced distraction environment.
During her first semester, plaintiff earned B grades in four
courses and withdrew from a pre-algebra course. (Tr. 264).
Thereafter, her academic performance was quite variable. She
withdrew from all her classes in the 2012 spring semester. In
the next two semesters, she failed or withdrew from four
courses, but she also received an A (Art Appreciation), one B
(Stress Management), and two Cs (College Composition II and
General Psychology). She failed or withdrew from all her
classes in spring 2014. Id. She testified at the
hearing that she was not allowed to re-enroll based on her
academic performance and failure to complete a financial aid
application. (Tr. 48).
to a Work History Report plaintiff completed, she was a day
care assistant from 2008 through 2009 and a campus worker
from 2010 through 2011. (Tr. 216). Plaintiff had a part-time
job at Wal-Mart as a stocker from October 2014 through March
2015 until she was terminated for excessive tardiness and
absences. She testified that she was frequently late to her
shift because relied on public transportation to get to work.
(Tr. 51, 266). She also testified that the work was difficult
because she had to lift heavy items and meet quotas. She had
a part-time job at a Dairy Queen for two months in 2015, but
was unable to make change or manage credit cards. She found
the job very stressful. (Tr. 49-50). Her employer submitted a
letter stating that plaintiff had a hard time focusing and
made numerous errors in filling customers' orders. She
also had “an attack of nerves” that left her
unable to function for 30 minutes. (Tr. 267).
to Function Reports completed by plaintiff and her mother
(Tr. 208-15, 228-38), plaintiff spent her days attending to
personal hygiene, watching television, and talking to family
members. She attended church with her mother. She was able to
microwave prepared foods. She was responsible for making her
bed, taking out the trash, and washing dishes. She went
shopping with her mother and was able to go out alone on
occasion. She was unable to count change, pay bills, or
manage bank accounts. She sometimes had problems getting
along with others because, she stated, she “tend[ed] to
get angry when told what to do” and “was
diagnosed with emotional disturbance based on inappropriate
peer interactions and [her] symptoms back in elementary,
middle and high school.” (Tr. 233).
plaintiff submitted her application in January 2014, she
lived with her mother and two siblings in an apartment. (Tr.
140, 208, 228). In September 2015, plaintiff told the ALJ
that her mother's landlord required her to move because
there were too many people living in the apartment. (Tr.
40-41). She was temporarily living in a house
owned by her boyfriend's mother, but that house was for
sale. (Tr. 36-39). She spent her days journaling
and watching television. (Tr. 38). She earned money walking
dogs, mowing lawns, and babysitting. (Tr. 39-40). Plaintiff
did not have a driver's license. She testified that she
passed the written portion and obtained her permit but failed
the driving portion because she could not parallel park. (Tr.
listed her impairments as depression, learning disability,
anxiety and panic attacks, and chronic irritable bowel
syndrome. (Tr. 199). She had difficulties remembering,
understanding, concentrating, following instructions,
completing tasks, and getting along with others. Her mother
stated that plaintiff had a short attention span and needed
help staying focused. The Field Office interviewer observed
no limitations during a brief telephone interview and
described plaintiff as cooperative. (Tr. 196). At the
hearing, plaintiff testified that she was unable to work
fulltime because she was “too nervous, ” “a
complete failure, ” and every other day experienced
panic attacks that lasted 30 minutes to an
hour. (Tr. 43, 53).
received medical management from psychiatrist Daniel Mamah,
M.D., and case management from Krista Cooperman. Plaintiff
testified that Ms. Cooperman took her to medical appointments
and encouraged her to take her medications as prescribed.
Plaintiff took Prozac once a day before bed, and Aleve and
Miralax as needed. (Tr. 54-55).
expert Delores E. Gonzalez, M. Ed., was asked to testify
about the employment opportunities for a hypothetical person
of plaintiff's age, who received special education
services, graduated from high school, was able to get some
good grades in college, and had no physical limitations, but
who was limited to routine, repetitive, noncomplex tasks, not
to exceed specific vocational preparation (SVP) level two.
Ms. Gonzalez was also asked to assume that the individual was
limited to no more than occasional decision-making,
occasional changes in the work setting, occasional to no
direct contact with the public, and occasional interaction
with co-workers and supervisors. (Tr. 63). Ms. Gonzalez
testified that such an individual would be able to perform
work as a cleaner II (described as medium unskilled work,
with an SVP of 1), a silver wrapper (light, unskilled, with
an SVP of 1), or a housekeeping cleaner (light, unskilled,
with an SVP of 2). (Tr. 63-64). These jobs would be available
if the individual were also limited to casual and infrequent
interactions with co-workers and no tandem tasks, with
end-of-workday production quotas only. An individual who was
absent from work two or more days a month or who was off task
ten percent of the time would be unable to perform any work
in the national economy. (Tr. 67-68). Similarly, a person who
required redirection after 30 days on the job would be
subject to termination.
began treatment with the BJC BH Community Mental Health
Center in 2007. (Tr. 301). According to documents completed
in 2012, plaintiff had severe anxiety problems, symptoms of
panic disorder, and somatoform disorder. (Tr. 299). She had
begun managing her anxiety and panic attacks on her own with
fewer requests for outside intervention from her mother,
counselor, or doctors, and her symptoms continued to improve.
Id. She was hoping to find a place to live with her
boyfriend when he was released from incarceration. In the
meantime, she was concerned with the custody arrangements for
his son. She had two criminal charges in 2011 for interfering
with a police officer and having alcohol in the presence of
minors. In 2012, she was expelled from Meramec Community
College for her participation in a fight. She was allowed to
enroll at Forest Park Community College for the winter
semester, with the condition that she meet with a counselor
began treatment at Midwest Psychiatry on September 14, 2012,
for chronic management of mood and anxiety symptoms. (Tr.
326-27). On examination, psychiatrist Daniel Mamah found that
plaintiff was oriented, well-dressed and groomed, and had
logical, sequential speech. She did not report symptoms of
psychosis. She had no disruption in sleep and her appetite
was fair. Her intellect was normal and her sensorium was
clear. She had restricted affect and fair insight and
judgment. Dr. Mamah diagnosed plaintiff with panic disorder
with agoraphobia and mood disorder, not otherwise specified,
and assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score
of 60. He noted that plaintiff's anxiety
symptoms involved both attacks and generalized components and
that her history of episodes appeared consistent with major
depressive episodes but her irritability and behaviors were
atypical. She did not present any apparent risk to herself or
others and was “fairly well functioning.”
Plaintiff was previously prescribed the antidepressants
Remeron, Zoloft, Prozac, and Risperdal, and the stimulants
Concerta and Ritalin, and was presently taking Celexa. (Tr.
326, 297). Dr. Mamah ordered blood tests to rule out
hypothyroidism and increased plaintiff's dose of Celexa.
On October 12, 2012, plaintiff reported that she had
headaches and chest pains on the increased dose of Celexa and
Dr. Mameh prescribed Zoloft instead. Despite the persistence
of panic and anxiety symptoms, plaintiff's mood was
largely stable and her mental status examination was
unremarkable. (Tr. 325). Two weeks later, plaintiff reported
that she felt good and had not had any panic attacks, even
though she had stopped taking the Zoloft because the pills
got wet. Dr. Mamah advised her to resume taking Zoloft. (Tr.
plaintiff returned to Midwest Psychiatry in January 2013, she
was feeling stressed because her boyfriend had been arrested
and she was trying to raise money for his legal fees. (Tr.
323). She had again stopped taking Zoloft, this time because
she was taking cold medicine. Nonetheless, there were no
reports of panic attacks and her mental status examination
was again unremarkable. During a medical visit in March 2013,
plaintiff reported improvement in her mental health with
Zoloft. (Tr. 288). In April 2013, Laura Romer, APRN, of
Midwest Psychiatry, noted that plaintiff was experiencing a
lot of drama and continued to be inconsistent in taking her
medication. (Tr. 322). Plaintiff reported that she had poor
focus and low motivation, leading to a poor grade in one of
her classes. She also had some issues with motivation and
anger. On examination, her mood was up and down and her
insight and judgment were poor. She was assigned a GAF of 50.
In May 2013, plaintiff was “generally doing
well.” (Tr. 316-21). She had no significant depressive
symptoms. Although she had some irritability and mild
anxieties, “the latter symptoms appear[ed] to be in
remission.” (Tr. 319). Dr. Mamah recommended counseling
for anger and behavior management, but plaintiff refused.
Id. She was taking her medication as prescribed.
Plaintiff presented with essentially normal mental status,
with appropriate and well-modulated affect. Her GAF was
(Tr. 320). In August 2013, plaintiff reported that she was
doing well and had no major mood or anxiety symptoms or
significant stressors. She was planning to go to school in
the fall. (Tr. 334-39). Her condition was stable and her GAF
was 70. Her clinical presentation was similar in November
2013. (Tr. 340-45). She reported that she had done well on
her midterms. Dr. Mamah again recommended individual
counseling to help her cope with general stressors. (Tr.
343). Her GAF remained at 70. (Tr. 344).
Manah saw plaintiff five times in 2014. In February, he noted
that plaintiff was more irritable and was snapping at people.
She was also more depressed with occasional sleep
interruption. (Tr. 471-73). She did not identify any
increased stressors and school was still going well. She was
taking her medications. Although her mental status
examination was unremarkable, Dr. Mamah assessed that her
condition had worsened and started her on
Lamictal. Her GAF was 55. (Tr. 472). In May,
plaintiff reported that she was doing fairly well and had not
had any significant mood swings since starting the Lamictal.
(Tr. 474-77). She had left school after failing some classes
and was working fulltime at McDonald's. On examination,
she had normal speech and coherent thought processes, her
insight and judgment were good, and she was oriented. Her
memory was intact, her attention and concentration were
normal, and she displayed an average vocabulary. Her mood was
“ok” and her affect was euthymic. (Tr. 479). Her
GAF was 70 and Dr. Mamah assessed that she was “doing
relatively well.” (Tr. 476). In August 2014 (Tr.
478-81), plaintiff was still “doing relatively
well.” (Tr. 478). Work at McDonald's was stressful,
she said, and she had had one panic attack since her last
visit. On examination, her mental status remained
unremarkable. Her GAF was 70 and Dr. Mamah found that she had
“no major symptoms.” (Tr. 480). Plaintiff
reported in October 2014 that she was working overnight
shifts and looking for other work. (Tr. 482-85). She could
not recall having any panic attacks, although she had one
episode of feeling faint. She reported having some mood
swings, which she described as not severe. Her mental status
examination was unremarkable. Dr. Mamah increased the dosage
of plaintiff's Lamictal. (Tr. 484). In December 2014,
plaintiff reported that she had quit McDonald's and was
working at Wal-Mart. (Tr. 487-89). She had some mood swings,
but they did not last long. It was noted that plaintiff was
“social but complained of up and down moods” and
had not been taking her medication as instructed. (Tr. 489).
She was encouraged to begin walking to improve her moods. Her
Lamictal dosage was increased. Her mental status examination
Manah saw plaintiff on four occasions in 2015. In February,
she reported that she thought she would be fired from
Wal-Mart for missing work, which she attributed to stress or
being too cold. (Tr. 492-94). She stated she felt some
generalized stress and depression and was not sleeping well.
She had stopped taking the Lamictal, which she thought made
her moody. (Tr. 492). Her mental status evaluation was
unremarkable and Dr. Manah assessed her condition as stable.
(Tr. 494). He prescribed trazadone to help with sleep and
again recommended counseling to her. Id. In March,
plaintiff reported that she was no longer working and she was
worried about finding another job. (Tr. 497-99). She had
daily periods of depression. She wanted a medication
“that makes [her] happy” and asked for Xanax,
which a friend had given her. (Tr. 497). Her sleep had
improved after taking trazadone a single time and she had
started counseling. Other than an anxious mood, her mental
status examination was unremarkable. (Tr. 498). Dr. Manah
noted that her ability to manage daily stressors was poor and
decided to switch her antidepressant from Zoloft to Prozac.
(Tr. 499). In April, she reported that she was “doing
much better with current medication regimen.” She had
no significant mood symptoms. (Tr. 502). She would begin a
job at Schnucks in the ...