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Radford v. Berryhill

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

March 12, 2019

NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is a. pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Plaintiff Carrie Radford's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Because the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs Request for Review, the decision by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is the final decision of the Commissioner. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on May 6, 2014.[1] (Tr. 132) She alleged disability beginning April 21, 2014. (Tr. 132) Plaintiff s claims were initially denied on June 18, 2014 (Tr. 81), and she filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ (Tr. 88). On May 23, 2016, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 25-48) In a decision dated August 2, 2016, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from April 21, 2014 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 488-504) On July 10, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review. (Tr. 8-14) On September 19, the Appeals Council set aside its previous action to consider additional information Plaintiff provided. (Tr. 1-7) Again, the Appeals Council found no reason under its rules to review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1) Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Evidence Before the ALJ

         At the May 23, 2016 hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff appeared with counsel. (Tr. 25-28) Plaintiff testified she was 31 years old at the time of the hearing. She further stated she lived in a house with her mother and her two children (ages 12 and 10) and has done so for almost five years. Plaintiff did not have a driver's license and did not plan to get one, but she claimed she previously had a driver's license and would be able to obtain one. The highest grade level she completed was 11th grade, and she did not attempt to obtain a GED because she was too busy with her children. Plaintiff asserted that despite some difficulty with reading comprehension she is capable of simple math. (Tr. 30-33)

         Plaintiff testified she was not currently working. Her sources of income included a monthly check for $58 through her husband's disability[2] and temporary government assistance for her and her children. Plaintiffs mother worked full-time and her children both attend school. Plaintiff stated the last time she worked was when she was 14 years old. When she and her husband lived together for nine years when she was between the ages of 17 and 27, she was a stay-at-home mom. Since then, Plaintiff testified she has not tried to find work because she has "too many pains." Specifically, she cited her back, depression, Major Depression, and now a foot injury. (Tr. 33-34)

         At the hearing, Plaintiff testified she was currently using a walking boot. She had surgery on February 9, 2016 during which ten screws and a four-inch plate were inserted on her right ankle. She further stated her depression prevents her from doing a lot of things besides simple tasks around the house to help her mother. These tasks include cooking for her children and folding laundry. (Tr. 34-36)

         Next, the ALJ proceeded to ask Plaintiff questions regarding a list of medications. Plaintiff stated she takes two medications for her gallbladder. She also takes Gabapentin for her nerves and lower back pain she says is a result of delivering her youngest child in 2006. Further, arthritis in her lower spine causes it to pop. Specifically regarding her ankle injury, Plaintiff stated she no longer used crutches and was not prescribed physical therapy as long as she wore the walking boot. (Tr. 36-37)

         Plaintiff testified she used various antidepressants over the years, including Effexor and Lithium. She claim the Lithium made her suicidal so she stopped taking it without being directed by her doctor. Plaintiff stated she had been hospitalized three times for suicide attempts, most recently in March of 2015 after overdosing on Klonopin. The ALJ asked what follow-up treatment she underwent, and Plaintiff stated she took the medication as prescribed by doctors at the hospital. Plaintiff further testified she continued to see a psychiatrist every two months.[3] (Tr. 38-42)

         During examination by her attorney, Plaintiff stated she did not think she could work a full-time job. She cited her inability to sit or stand for too long due to her back injury and claimed she does not get along with new people well which leads to depression. According to Plaintiff, she spends most of her time on a typical day at home, sitting in her recliner, taking her medication as prescribed, and "in her own mind." (Tr. 42-44)

         A vocational expert ("VE") also testified at the hearing. The ALJ asked the VE to assume a hypothetical individual of Plaintiff s age, education, and past work experience who can work at a light exertional level as defined in the regulations with the following limitations: occasionally climb ramps and stairs, occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Further, the hypothetical individual should be able to complete simple, routine tasks in a work environment free of fast-paced productivity requirements involving simple work-related decisions with few work place changes and is able to interact appropriately, occasionally, with the general public, coworkers, and supervisors. Given the hypothetical, the VE testified that nationally there are approximately 384, 000 light, unskilled cleaner positions; approximately 326, 000 light, unskilled hand packer positions; and approximately 228, 000 production worker assembler positions. (Tr. 44-46)

         The ALJ asked the VE to assume a second hypothetical individual with the same characteristics as the first except to assume this hypothetical individual can work at a sedentary level as defined in the regulations. The VE testified that nationally there are approximately 22, 000 unskilled hand packer positions; approximately 29, 000 sedentary, unskilled production worker assembler positions; and approximately 17, 000 sedentary, unskilled surveillance system monitor positions. (Tr. 46)

         Lastly, the AJL asked the VE to assume a third hypothetical individual with the same characteristics as the second but to further assume this hypothetical individual could miss greater than two unscheduled days from work per month due to symptoms of pain and absenteeism. The VE testified that amount of absenteeism would likely result in termination, so there were no applicable jobs. The VE testified that his answers throughout the hearing were consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"). (Tr. 46)

         Before the hearing concluded, the ALJ asked if Plaintiff had anything further to say. Plaintiff stated she had written letters but would be unable to read them as they made her cry. The ALJ confirmed Plaintiffs attorney had submitted a letter, which would be included in the file. (Tr.47;207)

         III. ...

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