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Bell v. Saul

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

July 2, 2019

JOKESHA BELL, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This action is before the Court for judicial review of the final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying the application of plaintiff Jokesha Bell for child's disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits (SSI) under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. The parties have consented to the exercise of plenary authority by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jokesha Bell, applied for Title II and Title XVI benefits on June 8, 2015, at the age of 18. (Tr. 181-200). She alleged that she became disabled beginning November 9, 1996, due to “understanding, SSD classes, asthma, and scoliosis.” (Tr. 15, 181, 197, 219). Plaintiff's application was initially denied in September 2015. (Tr. 100-13).

         In September 2015, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 114-16). The ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff, plaintiff's grandmother, and a vocational expert in May 2017. (Tr. 30-66). In September 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 15-25). Subsequently, in May 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.


         The following is a summary of plaintiff's medical history relevant to this appeal. Plaintiff was diagnosed with mild mental retardation as a child and received special education services in public schools. A Special Education Report from Jefferson County, Colorado, Public Schools, dated August 2005, contained a WISC-IV Test[2] with a performance score of 67, and a full-scale IQ of 65, with a verbal score of 65. (Tr. 306). A Woodstock-Johnson III test[3] was administered, with low results as well. (Tr. 310). The Report also referred to a December 2003 test, where plaintiff received a performance score of 74, a full-scale IQ of 64, and a verbal score of 58. (Tr. 306).

         In December 2014, shortly after plaintiff turned 18, psychologist Paul Rexroat, Ph.D., found that plaintiff's IQ was significantly higher than the school testing had indicated, giving her a full-scale IQ score of 72. (Tr. 340-45). Dr. Rextroat also reviewed plaintiff's school records and previous IQ assessments. (Tr. 22-23, 340-41). He found that plaintiff could perform simple tasks and had only mild limitations interacting socially and adapting to her environment. (Tr. 344-45). Dr. Rexroat diagnosed borderline intelligence. (Id.).

         In February 2015, Ms. Sonya Williams, M.A., a licensed professional counselor, completed a Service Plan, and assigned plaintiff a Children's Global Scale (C-GAS) score of 45[4] and a Global Assessment of Relational Functioning (GARF) score of 61[5]. (Tr. 441-42). In March and May of 2015, the same tests were administered again, and plaintiff scored 45 and 61, and 53 and 65, respectively. (Tr. 438-40, 443). Ms. Williams indicated that the C-GAS score increased to reflect an increase in plaintiff's overall level of family functioning, with improved self-esteem, self-perception, and self-care related activities. (Tr. 443). Accordingly, Ms. Williams assessed that plaintiff only had mild retardation and focused on treating plaintiff as a neglected child. (Tr. 23, 357-400, 438-39, 441).

         In September 2015, Margaret Sullivan, Ph.D., a psychologist, reviewed the school records along with those of Dr. Rexroat, and similarly concluded that plaintiff could perform simple tasks and adapt to changes in a setting that did not require frequent public contact. (Tr. 73-74, 76-81).

         Plaintiff lives with her grandmother and some of her siblings. At the hearing before the ALJ, plaintiff's grandmother, Joyce Anne Collins, testified that plaintiff does not understand many things, and lacks independence. (Tr. 53-54). In a report through plaintiff's attorney, Ms. Collins also stated that plaintiff needs verbal directions for everything she does and lacks self-esteem. (Tr. 226). She reported that plaintiff has difficulty concentrating and completing tasks and keeps to herself most of the time. (Tr. 226). Plaintiff has a driver's permit. (Id.). However, Ms. Collins stated that plaintiff runs stop signs because she forgets to look and requires verbal reminders. (Tr. 226).

         After graduating high school, plaintiff obtained a job as a bagger in a supermarket, working six- to eight-hour shifts, three to four days per week. (Tr. 39, 56, 63). Plaintiff testified that a job coach assisted her with employment. (Tr. 20-22). Plaintiff also stated that she retained the ability to help care for her younger siblings, maintain her own personal care, prepare meals, clean, vacuum, do laundry, drive, shop, watch television, use the internet, and spend time with her family. (Tr. 36, 42-43, 45-48, 227-30, 235).


         At Step One, the ALJ found that plaintiff has never engaged in substantial gainful employment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq., 416.971 et seq. Although plaintiff has been employed as a bagger since 2016, that work does not rise to the level of substantial gainful activity because it is part-time. (Tr. 17-18).

         At Step Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairment of borderline intellectual functioning. (Tr. 18). Although plaintiff has asthma and scoliosis, an August 2015 consultative evaluation revealed that they only cause her minimal limitations and are therefore not severe. (Id.).

         At Step Three, the ALJ found that plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals any listed impairment. (Tr. 18-21). The ALJ specifically considered Listing 12.05 for intellectual functioning, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 § 12.05, and ...

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