United States District Court, E.D. Missouri
ANN C. KLIETHERMES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying the application
of Ann Cecelia Kliethermes (“Plaintiff”) for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381,
et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of
the Complaint (ECF 15), Defendant has filed a brief in
support of the Answer (ECF 20), and Plaintiff has filed a
reply brief (ECF 21).
filed her applications for DIB and SSI under Titles II and
XVI of the Social Security Act on January 15, 2014 (Tr.
193-205). Plaintiff was initially denied relief on April 17,
2014, and on June 3, 2014, she filed a Request for Hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr.
83-94, 104-108). After a hearing, by a decision dated August
31, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr.
22-33). Plaintiff filed Request for Review of Hearing
Decision on September 2, 2016 (Tr. 18). On August 15,
2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review (Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff appealed to the United States
District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on
October 18, 2017 (ECF 1). As such, the ALJ's decision
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through September 30, 2006, and
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 1, 2003, the alleged onset date of her
disability (Tr. 24). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe
impairments of bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive
disorder (Tr. 24). The ALJ found no impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 250).
conducted a hearing with Plaintiff, her counsel, and a
vocational expert on July 15, 2016 (Tr. 42). At the beginning
of the hearing, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff had concurrent
claims, but she never testified at a hearing for the prior
claim (Tr. 42-44). Plaintiff had also received benefits for a
period of time prior to the hearing with an onset date of
December 26, 1994 (Tr. 45-46). The benefits terminated in
approximately early 2001 (Tr. 45-46).
hearing, Plaintiff testified she lost her brother and a lot
of Plaintiff's issues are associated with that
“very tough” loss (Tr. 49). Plaintiff lives with
her elderly parents who were devastated by the death (Tr.
49). Plaintiff worked as a Registered Nurse at Cardinal
Glennon Children's Hospital in Saint Louis from 1980 to
approximately 1984 or 1985 (Tr. 29). After leaving Cardinal
Glennon, plaintiff moved to California where she worked in a
children's hospital until she got pregnant (Tr. 49-50).
When Plaintiff was 25 years old, she gave up her daughter for
adoption (Tr. 50). Plaintiff testified that as a result of
the adoption, she has slowly “gotten more
isolated” (Tr. 51). Following the adoption in the
mid-1980s, Plaintiff returned to Saint Louis and worked
part-time at DePaul Hospital as a psychiatric nurse (Tr. 51).
Following her time at DePaul, Plaintiff worked as a homecare
nurse (Tr. 51-52). Plaintiff lived on her own from 1983 to
1995, at which point she gave birth to a daughter and moved
in with her parents (Tr. 52-53). Plaintiff testified she is
prevented from working because of her depression and anxiety
(Tr. 54-55). Plaintiff has not been taking her medication as
prescribed because her Medicaid was discontinued despite her
attempts to reapply for beneifts (Tr. 55). Lithium is the
only prescription Plaintiff is currently taking (Tr. 56). In
July 2014, Plaintiff spent a few a few days in Arizona at the
Arizona Care Center and then the Sunshine Home (Tr. 58).
Plaintiff testified her anxiety is caused by social
situations, being heavier and older, not having any money for
things, needing to clean up her living space before her
parents downsize, she has to find a new place to live, and
her daughter taking a road trip to Kansas alone (Tr. 59).
Plaintiff has a cat named Charlie (Tr. 60). Plaintiff has a
drivers license with a glasses restriction (Tr. 61).
Plaintiff was in counseling but since the discontinuation of
her Medicaid, she can no longer afford to attend counseling
(Tr. 63). Plaintiff only socializes a little, leaves the
house only once or twice a week, showers approximately once
or twice a week, and does not sleep well. She sleeps on the
couch in the living room, because her room is “really
messed up” (Tr. 64-65). Plaintiff helps with household
chores including cleaning, dishes, cooking and errands (Tr.
65). Plaintiff's nursing license has been inactive since
approximately 2009 (Tr. 69).
vocational expert, Delores Elvira Gonzalez, testified
Plaintiff cannot perform any of her past work; however she is
able to work as a Cleaner II, a lab equipment cleaner, and a
machine feeder (Tr. 77-78). She is not able to do tandem
tasks (Tr. 77).
considering the entire record, including Plaintiff's
testimony, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the Residual
Functioning Capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full
range of work at all exertional levels, but with limitations
(Tr. 26). Plaintiff is limited to noncomplex, non detailed
tasks, with only occasional interaction with the public and
supervisors. She can have only occasional interaction with
co-workers, not involving tandem tasks (Tr. 26). The ALJ
found Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant
(Tr. 31). The ALJ found there are jobs which exist in
significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff can
perform, including Cleaner II, lab equipment cleaner, and
machine feeder (Tr. 32). Thus, the ALJ's conclusion for
Plaintiff was “not disabled” (Tr. 32). Plaintiff
appeals, arguing the ALJ failed to properly consider the
opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist and failed
to properly consider Plaintiff's impaired reliability
when making a determination of the facts and reaching her
conclusion (ECF 15).
the Social Security Act, the Commissioner must follow a
five-step process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529. “If
a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any step in the
evaluation of disability, the process ends and the claimant
is determined to be not disabled.” Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th
Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, first the claimant
cannot be engaged in “substantial gainful
activity” to qualify for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant
must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act defines
“severe impairment” as “any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits
[claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. . . .” Id. “‘The
sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two,
only when the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on [his
or] her ability to work.'” Page v. Astrue,
484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v.
Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001), citing
Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d).
If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of,
these impairments, then the claimant is per se
disabled without consideration of the claimant's age,
education, or work history. Id.
the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v.
Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008)
(“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has
the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). The ALJ
will review a claimant's RFC and the physical and mental
demands of the work the claimant has done in the past. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing
any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g),
404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis,
the Commissioner has the burden of production to show
evidence of other jobs in the national economy that can be
performed by a person with the claimant's RFC.
Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3.
ultimate burden of persuasion to prove disability, however,
remains with the claimant.” Young v. Apfel,
221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000). See also Harris
v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926, 931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004)
(citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153, 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003));
Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir.
2004) (“The burden of persuasion to prove disability
and to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant, even when the
burden of production shifts to the Commissioner at step
five.”). Even if a court finds there is a preponderance
of the evidence against the ALJ's decision, the decision
must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d 65, 68 (8th Cir. 1984).
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but
is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner's conclusion.”
Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir.
2002). See also Cox v. Astrue, 495 F.3d 614, 617
(8th Cir. 2007).
not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo. Cox, 495
F.3d at 617. Instead, the district court must simply
determine whether the quantity and quality of evidence is
enough, so a reasonable mind might find it adequate to
support the ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Apfel,
239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing McKinney v.
Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). Weighing the
evidence is a function of the ALJ, who is the fact-finder.
Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir.
2004). Thus, an administrative decision which is supported by
substantial evidence is not subject to ...