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Bono v. Saul

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

July 12, 2019

LORI B. BONO, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1]Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          David D. Noce United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action is before the court for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the applications of plaintiff Lori B. Bono for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq. The parties have consented to the exercise of plenary authority by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on September 10, 1976. (Tr. 282). She filed her applications for DIB under Title II and for SSI under Title XVI on November 24, 2014. (Tr. 143-44). Plaintiff was last insured on June 30, 2016. (Tr. 282). She alleges she became disabled on August 31, 2012, the date she last held employment, based on the following impairments: bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), anxiety, panic disorder, mood disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD”), edema, fibromyalgia, and severe back pain. (Tr. 99, 282, 286). Her application was initially denied on December 26, 2014. (Tr. 147). On January 22, 2015, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 156).

         On October 6, 2017, following a hearing, an ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act until June 23, 2016. (Tr. 30). Plaintiff submitted a request for review by SSA's Appeals Council, which was denied on May 11, 2018. (Tr. 1-4). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.


         Plaintiff's action challenges the ALJ's evaluation of her mental condition between August 31, 2012, and June 23, 2016. Because plaintiff does not challenge the ALJ's evaluation of her physical impairments, discussion is limited to the following medical history relevant to this action.

         Plaintiff has been treated by David Goldman, D.O., since 2002 and met with him every six weeks since at least May 3, 2012. (Tr. 102-03, 205). She also speaks with Genia Perry, a counselor, two to three times a week. (Tr. 103). Jeffry Evans, M.D., has been plaintiff's primary care physician since at least 2014. (Tr. 434, 435, 438).

         On May 29, 2013, Dr. Goldman diagnosed plaintiff with PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and episodic mood disorder. (Tr. 444). Between 2012 and 2016, plaintiff met with Dr. Goldman every six weeks for medical evaluation. (Id.). In that time, Dr. Goldman reported general stability in plaintiff's mental health and normal medical evaluations. (Tr. 442, 446-47, 451-52, 456-57, 461-62, 466-67, 523-24, 530-31, 537-38, 544-45, 551, 556-57, 563-64, 717-18). Between 2012 and 2016, plaintiff also showed good medication response, was compliant with her medications, and was cooperative during appointments. (Tr. 23, 24, 442, 447, 456, 461, 466, 523, 544, 550, 556, 563, 715-17).

         There were some exceptions to plaintiff's generally normal evaluations. On January 11, 2013, plaintiff arrived looking tired with a constricted affect after her son's best friend overdosed and died in her house. (Tr. 24, 716). Plaintiff was reported to have had an abnormal appearance and affect on November 23, 2013, when she complained of being stressed about her mother having a heart attack three weeks prior and reporting “fair” sleep. (Tr. 451-52). On December 3, 2014, plaintiff was reported to have a flat affect and a depressed mood. (Tr. 570, 575). On December 10, 2015, plaintiff again was reported to have a flat affect and a depressed mood and described struggling with coping with her mother's death. (Tr. 586, 591).

         On June 23, 2016, Dr. Goldman submitted a medical source statement (“MSS”) of plaintiff's ability to do work-related activities. (Tr. 632). In the statement, he listed plaintiff's ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions as moderately limited; her ability to make judgments on simple work-related decisions as markedly limited; and her ability to understand and remember complex instructions as moderately limited. (Tr. 632). He listed her ability to carry out complex instructions as moderately limited, noting she had a marked limitation on her ability to make judgments on complex work-related decisions. (Id.). In the MSS, Dr. Goldman also wrote that because of plaintiff's anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar disorder, she had a marked limitation on her ability to interact appropriately with supervisors and co-workers, and a marked limitation on her ability to respond appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. (Tr. 633). Dr. Goldman wrote further that plaintiff's conditions would cause her to miss more than four days a month of work, and that twenty-five percent or more of her work time would be “off task.” (Tr. 633-34).


         On August 23, 2016, the hearing before the ALJ was held. (Tr. 91).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff is a 36-year-old female who is married with two children and lives in New London, Missouri. (Tr. 99-101). She has an eleventh grade education and failed to graduate from high school, but later received CNA and CMA certifications. (Tr. 102). Both certifications are not current. (Id.). Her last gainful employment was working at Dollar General, which ended August 31, 2012. (Tr. 99-100). She was fired because she could not correctly hang shelves and follow directions. (Tr. 100).

         Plaintiff has been diagnosed with various health issues and has cited her mental health conditions as the reason for her inability to work. (Tr. 102). She testified that due to her bipolar disorder, she will lash out at others for no reason, with three or more bad days a week. (Tr. 103). Plaintiff described bad days as ones where she is not pleasant to be around, generally grouchy, screams at everyone and cannot control her anger, uses foul language, stays in her night clothes, does not bathe, and does not do any housekeeping work. (Tr. 104-05). Plaintiff testified that at least twice a month, she isolates herself in her bedroom and spends all day in bed sleeping. (Tr. 104).

         Additionally, plaintiff testified that her ADHD makes her easily distracted because it is difficult to concentrate. (Tr. 105). She stated that she would start cleaning upstairs, go downstairs to get something and start cleaning down there, and then forget what she was doing upstairs. (Id.).

         Plaintiff further testified that she has an anxiety disorder. (Tr. 106). She stated that she does not like to be around people, because when she is, she breaks out in sweat and “freaks out.” (Id.). She also noted that she has panic attacks when she is around numerous people and that panic attacks occur three or more times a week. (Id.). The panic attacks are especially difficult when she is at the store. (Tr. 107).

         Plaintiff explained that while she does go shopping, she does not leave her home by herself. (Tr. 112). She testified that she makes whoever is at home go with her on errands outside the home, including to doctors' appointments, because she will “freak out.” (Id.). She can drive, but does not like leaving her home, which she views as her protective environment. (Tr. 112-13). She visits the store weekly and has problems three to four times a month. (Tr. 113). When she has an anxiety attack at the store, she starts sweating and sits for 20 minutes in the bathroom until the person she is with helps her finish shopping. (Id.).

         Plaintiff spoke of how she has PTSD from an ex-husband who used to physically abuse her. (Id.). She testified that he used to tie her to a bed and carve foul language on her body with a razor blade. (Id.). She also stated that he ripped out her bangs, held her hostage in a car while holding a screwdriver, stopped her from seeing her family, and locked her in their home. (Id.).

         Plaintiff testified that as a result of her abuse and PTSD, she experiences nightmares three to four times a week. (Tr. 108). When she wakes up, she is stressed and usually experiences one of her bad days accompanied by flashbacks and extended crying spells. (Tr. 109). She also wants to be alone when flashbacks occur. (Id.).

         Plaintiff testified due to her depression, she sits in her chair and has little motivation to get up and do anything. She experienced a dark depression after her mother passed away on September 25, 2015. (Tr. 110).

         B. Vocational Expert Testimony

         A Vocational Expert (“VE”) testified that plaintiff had performed the following past work: (1) stock clerk, (2) cashier II, (3) and nurse's assistant. (Tr. 122).

         The ALJ posed three hypothetical questions to the VE regarding plaintiff's work ability. The ALJ first asked the VE to consider a hypothetical individual with plaintiff's age, education, and work history who is limited to medium level work; can perform work limited to simple, routine tasks, with few workplace changes; would be off task five percent of the time in addition to regularly scheduled breaks; and could have occasional interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisors. (Id.). The VE responded that the ...

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