United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northeastern 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).
August 4, 2015, plaintiff Carla P. protectively filed
applications for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits, Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq., and for supplemental security income, Title
XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., with an
alleged onset date of May 1, 2014. (Tr. 164-65, 166-74).
After plaintiff's applications were denied on initial
consideration (Tr. 86-90), she requested a hearing from an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 92-93, 94-95).
and counsel appeared for a hearing on August 23, 2017. (Tr.
25-61). Plaintiff testified concerning her disability, daily
activities, functional limitations, and past work. The ALJ
also received testimony from vocational expert Mary Kathleen
Schauwecker, M.S. The ALJ issued a decision denying
plaintiff's applications on November 8, 2017. (Tr.
10-24). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review on May 21, 2018. (Tr. 1-4). Accordingly, the
ALJ's decision stands as the Commissioner's final
Evidence Before the ALJ
Disability and Function Reports and Hearing
who was born in February 1960, was 54 years old on the
alleged onset date and lived with her husband and adopted
grandson. (Tr. 62, 229-30, 436-37). She completed high school
and received training as a cosmetologist. (Tr. 229-30). She
previously worked as an unemployment case manager, a
receptionist, a customer service representative, an
adult-store manager, and a tax preparer. (Tr. 196, 41-44).
listed her impairments as spinal stenosis, bulging discs,
arthritis in her lower back, fibromyalgia, thickening of her
lower back, depression, balance issues, and blood pooling in
her feet. (Tr. 194). In her September 2015 Function Report
(Tr. 229-36), plaintiff described her daily activities as
having coffee, sitting outside in nice weather, getting
dressed, and doing some light chores. She also made sure her
son got up to go to school, prepared simple meals, and took
care of the family dogs. She listed her hobbies as
crocheting, reading and watching television. She used to be
able to crochet for hours, but now was limited to 30 minutes
a day because her hands got tired. She was unable to sleep
without medication because her “brain and body [would]
not shut down.” (Tr. 230). She had difficulty with
dressing and needed to use a shower chair. She had a
driver's license and went grocery shopping once a week
for two hours. She could walk one block before needing to
rest for 15 minutes. She was able to manage financial
accounts, but had difficulty with subtraction due to her
conditions. She spoke on the phone with her daughter about
three times a week and visited her daughter's home about
once a month. She had difficulty completing tasks and
following instructions and was able to pay attention for
about 30 minutes. She got along well with others, including
authority figures. She did not handle stress or changes in
routine well. She used a cane and wore glasses. Plaintiff had
difficulty with lifting, squatting, bending, standing,
reaching, walking, sitting, kneeling, climbing stairs, using
her hands, remembering, completing tasks, concentrating,
understanding, and following instructions. In March 2016,
plaintiff listed her medications as gabapentin for nerve
pain, venlafaxine for depression, oxybutynin for bladder
control, and amitriptyline for sleep. (Tr. 277). In June
2017, she was also taking tramadol and acetaminophen #3 and
had changed antidepressants. (Tr. 280). A third-party
Function Report completed by plaintiff's daughter Edith
Springer was consistent with plaintiff's report. (Tr.
testified at the August 2017 hearing that she lacked
sensation in her feet, which caused her to have poor balance.
(Tr. 29). She also had pain in her low back that radiated
into her legs and right foot plus arthritis in her hips. (Tr.
30-31). Her fibromyalgia caused pain in her arms and upper
back and occasional clumsiness. (Tr. 33). On her worst days,
plaintiff did not get up until noon and she found it
difficult to focus. Two or three times a week, she was able
to get up about 8:00 in the morning and do chores such as
laundry and dishes. Her husband worked a night shift so she
prepared supper at 2:00 in the afternoon. She rested when he
left for work at 5:00. (Tr. 34-36). Three days a week she
skipped showering due to a combination of fatigue and pain.
(Tr. 37). She no longer left her home very often. She was a
deacon in her church and had been very active, but she
stopped going in 2015 because she worried about falling on
the steps into the church. (Tr. 54).
testified about the pain treatment she received. She had a
steroid injection in December 2014 but it proved ineffective
and her doctor decided against further injections. (Tr.
45-46). Her medications had been increased to the highest
dosages without completely relieving her pain. She used a
heating pad “every day, every night.” She had
been told that a TENS unit was not likely to provide relief.
testified that her ability to focus was diminished, impairing
her ability to complete chores like laundry. She no longer
read books. (Tr. 48-49). As recently as 2014, she had been
proficient with the tax-preparation software she used for her
job, but the following season had been unable use the
computer without assistance. (Tr. 50-51). At the time of the
hearing, she had not used the home computer for two or three
weeks because she had forgotten how to do so. (Tr. 48-49).
She could no longer focus enough to drive. (Tr. 60).
testified that her depression began after she was diagnosed
with fibromyalgia. (Tr. 52). She took medication but still
had days when she was more depressed and avoided other
expert Kathleen Schauwecker was asked to testify about the
employment opportunities for a hypothetical person of
plaintiff's age, education, and work experience who was
able to perform medium work, who could never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds, could occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. In
addition, the individual could occasionally reach overhead
with her right arm, and frequently handle, finger and feel.
The person needed to avoid exposure to vibration, moving
machinery and unprotected heights. (Tr. 57). According to Ms.
Schauwecker, such an individual would be able to perform
plaintiff's past work as a tax preparer, receptionist,
employment training specialist, order clerk, and manager of a
retail store. Her past relevant work as a retail manager and
employment training specialist would be precluded if the
individual needed to use a cane to walk. In response to a
question from plaintiff's counsel, Ms. Schauwecker
testified that all past relevant work would be precluded for
an individual who could occasionally lift 10 pounds,
frequently lift less than 10 pounds, stand or walk for two
hours, sit for six hours, occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl,
frequently balance, and avoid exposure to all hazards, who
was further limited to simple, routine tasks. All work would
be precluded, regardless of exertional level, if the
individual missed work two or more days a month due to her
impairments or were off-task 20 percent of the day. (Tr.
19, 2014, plaintiff sought emergency treatment for worsening
back pain with numbness and tingling in her legs. Radiology
studies indicated mild to moderate spondylosis of the lumbar
spine and degenerative changes. She was diagnosed with
sciatica and given hydrocodone. (Tr. 490-99). Within a few
days, plaintiff established care with physician Jennifer R.
Wisdom-Behounek, M.D., for treatment of back pain and
fibromyalgia. (Tr. 364-67). On examination, plaintiff had
moderate tenderness to ...