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Hill v. Saul

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

August 6, 2019

DINA HILL, Plaintiff,



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying the application of Dina Hill ("Hill") for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

         I. Background

         On December 9, 2014, Hill filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2010. (Tr. 15, 166-71). The claim was initially denied on February 26, 2015. (Tr. 15, 98, 101-07). Hill's request for a hearing was granted and a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was held on February 17, 2017. The ALJ issued a written decision on July 24, 2017, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 12-26). On April 27, 2018, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Hill's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-6). The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000). Hill filed this appeal on June 26, 2018. (ECF No. 1). On October 4, 2018, Hill filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint. (ECF No. 13). The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the Answer on December 31, 2018. (ECF No. 18).

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ found that Hill had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obesity, and major depression versus dysthymia. (Tr. 17). The ALJ, however, determined that Hill did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18). The ALJ found that Hill had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of light work. Hill can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. Hill can stand and/or walk for a total of four hours in an eight-hour workday and sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday. Hill can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Hill can occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, stoop, and climb ramps and stairs. Hill can have no concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, defined as no work environment where the ambient air temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Hill is limited to simple, routine tasks with occasional interaction with the general public, co-workers, and supervisors. (Tr. 19-20). In sum, the ALJ determined that Hill was not disabled. (Tr. 26).

         III. Administrative Record

         The following is a summary of relevant evidence before the ALJ.

         A. Hearing Testimony

         Hill testified on September 17, 2017, as follows:

         Hill was born in 1973. (Tr. 43). She dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and obtained her GED. (Tr. 44). She has been divorced since March of 2000. (Tr. 44). She has two children who are 21 and 22. (Tr. 44). She lives with her children and her ex-mother-in-law. (Tr. 44). Years ago, her ex-husband and his mother had a guardianship over the children due to some issues that Hill was addressing. (Tr. 44). Her ex-husband died in 2004. (Tr. 45). She has been on Medicaid for several years. (Tr. 45). Her ex-mother-in law is 63. (Tr. 45).

         She does not have a driver's license due to a prior DWI. (Tr. 46). She has not worked at all since December 2014. (Tr. 47). She previously worked for Gilster-Mary Lee as a packer and stacker of cereal. (Tr. 47-48). After that, she worked for Tri-State Water Treatment. She called people with surveys about their water. Then, she worked in customer service for Tri-State Water Treatment. (Tr. 48). Hill would sit for five or six hours for her Tri-State position. (Tr. 49). She believes she quit her position at Tri-State. (Tr. 50). Thereafter, Hill folded laundry for Tipton Textile Linen Service. (Tr. 49). She folded linens for eight-hours a day. (Tr. 49). She stopped working at the linen service because it was too hot, and it made her sick. (Tr. 49-50).

         Hill believes she is disabled because she lacks stamina. She needs to sit down after doing housework because she loses her breath very easily. (Tr. 51). Her shortness of breath is caused by her COPD. (Tr. 52). She is stressed and worries a lot. (Tr. 52). Dr. Robert McCool is her psychiatrist and Dr. Gibson is her primary care doctor. (Tr. 52). Dr. McCool diagnosed Hill with major depressive disorder. (Tr. 53). On bad days, she spends the whole day in bed and only gets up to do what she "absolutely ha[s] to do." (Tr. 54). She does not shower or bathe on those days. (Tr. 55). She has bad days a couple of days a week. (Tr. 55).

         She and her boyfriend broke up this week. (Tr. 55-56). They met through the Community Counseling Center, which has a day treatment program for people with mental illness. (Tr. 56).

         Hill suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. (Tr. 58). On days where she has a panic attack, she is terrified to go anywhere. (Tr. 59).

         Dr. McCool has Hill on medication and in talk therapy. (Tr. 60). Although Dr. McCool makes frequent adjustments to Hill's ...

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