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Donaby v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 29, 2018

JAMEL DONABY, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) for judicial review of Defendant's final decision finding that Plaintiffs disability ended and she is no longer entitled to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff was previously found disabled beginning October 21, 2001 and was issued a Notice of Award dated December 26, 2003. (Tr. 167, 170-75) On May 6, 2008, after review of the evidence in Plaintiffs disability claim, the Social Security Administration found that Plaintiff s disability was continuing. (Tr. 192-96) Upon subsequent review of the medical evidence, Defendant determined that Plaintiffs disability ceased as of March 24, 2014, and Plaintiffs disability payments ended on May 31, 2014. (Tr. 167-69, 197-99) Plaintiffs impairments included arthritis, heel spur, back/neck pain, and anxiety/depression. (Tr. 197) Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration on April 9, 2014. (Tr. 200) On September 12, 2014, a Disability Hearing Officer questioned Plaintiff, analyzed the evidence, and concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 215-24) Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ'), and on February 20, 2015, Plaintiff appeared pro se for an administrative hearing. (Tr. 129-158, 228) In a decision dated November 6, 2015, the ALJ determined that Plaintiffs disability ended on March 24, 2014, and the Plaintiff had not become disabled again since that date. (Tr. 108-20) On December 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. (Tr. 1-3) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         I. Evidence Before the ALJ

         At the hearing on February 20, 2015, Plaintiff appeared without attorney representation. Plaintiff acknowledged that she chose to proceed without counsel. Plaintiff stated that some of her recent medical records were missing from the evidence. The ALJ stated that she would take testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") and then would wait for additional records and schedule another hearing. (Tr. 129-36)

         The ALJ questioned Plaintiff during the hearing. Plaintiff testified that she was 34 years old and completed the ninth grade. While on disability, Plaintiff did some work caring for two children, ages four and six. She fed them, read to them, and took them outside to play. Plaintiff also cared for her disabled mother doing light cleaning. She worked for Genesis In-Home Health Care but had to quit due to issues with her leg. Plaintiff helped care for a disabled person by washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, and making his bed. (Tr. 139-43)

         Plaintiff testified that she was in a vehicle accident, which resulted in problems with her back and neck. Plaintiff had surgery on her lower back, left wrist, and jaw. Doctors also removed part of her liver and her gallbladder. Plaintiff stated that she continued to experience issues associated with the accident. She took Vicodin and Tramadol, which relieved the pain for a certain time. During the day, Plaintiff read and watched TV. She tried to move around, but she was off-balance and afraid she would fall. Plaintiff had a home health person that stopped by to cook, do laundry, and perform chores. Plaintiff stated that she had Medicare and Medicaid, and she had three children, ages 14, 8, and 7. She was able to, but did not, drive because her right leg cramped and her foot would go numb. (Tr. 143-46)

         When asked by the ALJ whether Plaintiff applied for unemployment benefits, the Plaintiff answered that she did not recall applying for such benefits. The ALJ also noted an assault charge and shoplifting charges against Plaintiff. Plaintiff stated that she was with other people and was not the culprit. In addition, she was never convicted. The ALJ questioned Plaintiff about not being truthful to Social Security examiners. (Tr. 146-49)

         Plaintiff also testified that she had been taking medication for depression over the past three years, which she found helpful. Plaintiffs home health aide did the shopping, and sometimes the father of her children took Plaintiff to the grocery store. Plaintiff stated that her hip was the main reason she was unable to work. Plaintiffs doctor informed her that she needed a hip replacement, and Plaintiff stated that neither pain medication nor physical therapy helped. In addition, Plaintiff fractured her ankle the year before. Although the fracture healed she continued to have problems with her ankle and wore a brace all the time except when in bed. Plaintiff also testified that she experienced headaches and blurry vision but had not received a diagnosis. She had asthma and used a rescue inhaler every day. She was unable to be around smoke, animals, dust, fumes, and humidity. Plaintiff took Trazodone for sleep. Plaintiff had high blood pressure for which she took medication. (Tr. 149-54)

         The ALJ also questioned a VE about Plaintiffs ability to perform jobs that existed in the national economy. With regard to Plaintiffs past job as a daycare worker, the VE testified that the job was titled child monitor and was medium exertion which was semi-skilled. The ALJ then stopped the questioning and indicated that she would ask additional questions via interrogatory or a supplemental hearing. The ALJ also stated that she wanted updated medical records from Plaintiffs physicians regarding her current physical condition. (Tr. 154-58)

         Plaintiff completed a Continuing Disability Review Report on April 9, 2013. She listed her medical conditions as arthritis, heel spur, back and neck pain, and anxiety and depression. She also reported high blood pressure. Her daily activities included waking up around 8:00 a.m. and getting her kids off to school, as well as taking a shower. She reported difficulty dressing due to pain in arms and legs; bathing because she could not get out of the tub; caring for her hair due to arm cramps; preparing meals due to pain in legs, heel, and hands; doing chores due to heel spurs and leg pain; shopping because she could not walk around the store due to pain; walking; standing; and getting along with people. (Tr. 315-326)

         In a Function Report - Adult dated June 24, 2013, Plaintiff reported being in pain throughout the day. She did her best to get her kids dressed, shower and dress herself, and make a quick lunch. Her daughter helped her with the boys because Plaintiff could not do much. She prepared food once a day for her children, but she needed one to two hours to fix a meal because she was unable to be on her feet for very long. Plaintiff was able to wipe off tables and counters and gather clothes for her kids to wear the following day. However, she needed help with all other household chores. Plaintiff reported that she sometimes lacked strength to move. She could shop two to three times a month for food and household needs. Her interests included reading, watching TV, and seeing her kids grow up. She spent time with family members and her friend. Plaintiff became mad at times because she was unable to do things she used to do. Her conditions affected her ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, kneel, climb stairs, complete tasks, use hands, and get along with others. Plaintiff reported that she could walk 30 to 40 feet before needing to rest for 10 minutes. She was able to pay attention and follow instructions very well. Plaintiff stated that she was in pain all the time. (Tr. 329-37)

         Plaintiff completed a Disability Report - Appeal on April 21, 2014. She reported arthritis in her right hip and right knee that has worsened. Further, she was unable to be on her feet as long as before, and she recently began experiencing headaches. She had also seen a doctor for abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Plaintiff reported that her pain was unbearable. (Tr. 345-52)

         In an additional Function Report - Adult dated May 5, 2014, Plaintiff stated that she had shortness of breath, weakness, pain, lack of energy, and fingers that cramped. She was afraid to do things because her legs gave out on her, and her back pain was severe. She had a caregiver to help her with grooming and with taking her medication. The caregiver also helped with the children and the chores. She only prepared meals once a week because she was unable to grip items and stand for long periods of time. She required help with all house and yard work, as well as shopping. Plaintiff reported that she tried to do exercises given by the physical therapist. She believed she could lift only 7 pounds with her right arm and could not walk a block before needing to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Plaintiff recently fell and fractured her ankle. (Tr. 357-67)

         A Vocational Interrogatory completed by the VE asked the VE to assume an individual of Plaintiffs age and limited education with past work experience as a child monitor. In addition, the person had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work except she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, and crouch; should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; should never crawl; could frequently reach overhead with bilateral upper extremities; could frequently use her left non-dominant hand for handling; should avoid all exposure to vibration; could have occasional exposure to atmospheric conditions; should have no exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery; and is capable of performing simple, routine tasks. The VE answered that the individual would be unable to perform Plaintiffs past work. However, the person could perform other work, including assembler, plastic hospital products; inspector and hand packager (plastic products); and marker - marking clerk or merchandise ...

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