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Tate v. Saul

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

July 15, 2019

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 applications of plaintiff Alexandria A. Tate for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. 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 final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on January 15, 1992 and was 23 years old at the time of her application. (Tr. 34.) She filed her application on January 20, 2015, alleging a May 16, 2014, onset date, and alleging disability due to bipolar disorder, hypertension, hip problems, high blood pressure, asthma, and major depressive disorder. (Tr. 68, 120.) Her application was denied, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 69-73.)

         On August 8, 2017, following a hearing, an ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 10-21.) The Appeals Council denied her request for review. (Tr. 1-4.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.


         The following is a summary of plaintiff's administrative record relevant to this judicial review.

         Throughout the relevant period, plaintiff was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder, Type I. (Tr. 444, 497.) Her bipolar history included several inpatient hospitalizations, the earliest one being an apparent suicide attempt when she jumped off a bridge when she was nine years old. (Tr. 249, 252, 254, 260, 262, 392-95.) Plaintiff also had a very recent history of severe cannabis use disorder and was repeatedly diagnosed with severe tobacco use disorder. During the relevant period plaintiff was morbidly obese. In October 2015, plaintiff was 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 358 pounds, and had a body mass index of 52.87. (Tr. 333-35.)

         Plaintiff received mental health treatment at BJC Behavioral Health from July 24, 2014 through October 9, 2016. Her medications included antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers. (Tr. 225-67, 410-508.)

         From March 2015 through October 2016, mental status examinations revealed that her concentration and memory were consistently intact. (Tr. 410-508.)

         In July 2014, plaintiff's psychiatrist noted that she had limited motivation to attend the Independence Center, a rehabilitation center. On August 2014, plaintiff arrived at a therapy appointment about 30 minutes late and was advised of the importance of being on time. She had recently attended a concert and a play with a group from the Independence Center. (Tr. 226-27.) In September 2014, plaintiff's caseworker noted she was often distracted and that plaintiff reported being absent minded and lacking motivation. She believed plaintiff needed support in identifying the barriers to her ability to focus at school. (Tr. 239, 244.)

         By October 2014, plaintiff's goals for the year included attendance at therapeutic services, such as group therapy, the Independence Center, and caseworker and psychiatric appointments. (Tr. 244-45.)

         In February 2015, after evaluating plaintiff's medical records, state agency expert Marsha Toll, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, opined that plaintiff was moderately impaired in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace. She further opined that plaintiff was not significantly limited in her ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances. (Tr. 58-64.)

         At a September 29, 2015 appointment, plaintiff was excited about starting a new temporary job at a Salvation Army call center. She discussed the safety issues regarding her 100 minute one-way commute that would involve several bus transfers. After two weeks on the job, plaintiff was terminated after she received four warnings in a one-week period. On one occasion plaintiff missed her morning medications, became dizzy, and needed to leave work early. She called in sick on another occasion. Her therapist noted her termination was a source of shame and disappointment for her. (Tr. 433-36.) In April 2015, plaintiff's caseworker reported plaintiff had been attending GED classes four days per week for two years. However, by November 2015, she was no longer attending GED classes. (Tr. 167, 229, 443.)

         Plaintiff's mood was “down” at an October 27, 2015 appointment. She had run out of her antidepressant medication several days earlier and was upset that her father, a bedridden paraplegic with a history of anger and aggression, was being abusive to her and her stepmother. (Tr. 436-37.) At a November 24, 2015 appointment, plaintiff felt sad because she no longer had the same caseworker. She was also still upset about her father's verbal abuse. (Tr. 439.)

         At a December 29, 2015 appointment, plaintiff described her mood as “fine.” However, she reported both her father and stepmother were suffering from depression and the depressive atmosphere at home was overwhelming at times. She continued to enjoy spending time with her dog and boyfriend. Her psychiatrist noted plaintiff had daily mood lability or exaggerated changes in mood. She had stopped GED classes and had poor motivation and severe fatigue associated with despair and indecisiveness. (Tr. 443-44.)

         On January 5, 2016, plaintiff reported feeling “significantly better” one week after starting lithium. She reported increased energy and motivation and was enjoying cleaning her house, spending time with her boyfriend, and talking with him on the phone late into the night. Her mood was “better” and her affect was euthymic or stable. (Tr. 447-48.)

         At her next appointment two weeks later, plaintiff complained of mood swings that began after her boyfriend revealed that he had herpes after he had denied having any sexually transmitted diseases. Her mood was “sad.” (Tr. 451-52.)

         On February 16, 2016, plaintiff was “doing good” after reconciling with her boyfriend, although his dishonesty continued to bother her. Her mood was “okay.” On March 1, 2016, plaintiff reported her depression as “being up and down” but “getting better, ” and described her mood as “fair.” (Tr. 455-62.)

         Plaintiff was “doing alright” on March 8, 2016, when she appeared for an unscheduled appointment. She had received a text message from a cousin who had reportedly stolen money from her grandmother's estate. Her family was angry with the cousin because the money was part of an inheritance that was being used to pay for her private school. Her mood was “fair.” (Tr. 465-66.)

         The following week, plaintiff's mood was labile or changeable after not hearing back from the same cousin. She was also upset and angry with the way her father treated her stepmother. Her mood was “fair.” Plaintiff was attending the Independence Center once a week, as well as other mental health services at BJC Behavioral Health twice a week. (Tr. 443, 465-70.)

         At her next appointment on March 22, 2016, plaintiff was “up and down” due to problems with her boyfriend's grandmother, whom he lived with. Her ...

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