United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
BARBARA A. ROMMEL, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Barbara Rommel seeks review of the decision of Defendant
Commissioner of Social Security Andrew Saul denying her
application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Disabled
Widow's Insurance Benefits under the Social Security Act.
Because the Court finds that substantial evidence supports
the decision to deny benefits, the Court affirms the denial
of Plaintiffs applications.
Background and Procedural History
January 2015, Plaintiff, then fifty-four years old, filed her
application for Disabled Widow's Insurance Benefits, and
on April 2015, she filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits alleging that she was disabled as of July
30, 2011 due to bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.
(Tr. 52) The Social Security Administration ("SSA")
denied the claim in September 2015, and Plaintiff filed a
timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law
granted Plaintiffs request for review, and Plaintiff appeared
and testified at a hearing before an ALJ on February 24,
2017. (Tr. 28-46) In a decision dated June 12, 2017, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff "has not been under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July
30, 2011 through the date of this decision." (Tr. 23)
sought review of the ALJ's decision, and the SSA Appeals
Council denied her request in January 2018. Plaintiff has
exhausted all administrative remedies, and the ALJ's
decision stands as the SSA's final decision. Sims v.
Apfel 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000).
Evidence before the ALJ
testified that she was fifty-five years old, had an
eleventh-grade education, and had suffered from mental
illness since 1994. (Tr. 33-35) Plaintiff stated that she
worked briefly as an in-home caregiver in 2011. (Tr. 37) As a
caregiver, she regularly lifted twenty-five pounds or less,
and her primary functions included cleaning, laundry, and
cooking. Id. Prior to working as a caregiver,
Plaintiff worked seven years at a bindery "more or less
full time." (Tr. 35) According to her testimony, she was
a "jack of all trades" where she "put books
together" and delivered cases of paper. (Tr. 36-37)
testified that she suffered from anxiety and mood swings.
(Tr. 39-41) Although she had seen a psychiatrist in the past,
she was not receiving treatment from a mental health
professional at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 39-40)
regard to her psychological symptoms, Plaintiff described an
incident at the bindery when, after receiving criticism from
a supervisor, she "walked out" of the job and
"cried all day." (Tr. 39) In response to the
ALJ's question regarding her anxiety, Plaintiff
responded: "...I just don't take things like I used
to... .[I]t's hard for me to work with some people and
stuff. If I don't take the medicine that I'm on now -
I mean, my son can even tell it when I don't take
it." (Tr. 40) In regard to her mood swings, Plaintiff
explained: "I'll be talking to my son or someone and
I'll be all right and then sometimes they'll say
something and I'll just like that, go off on them or
I'll get upset and walk away." (Tr. 42) Plaintiff
stated that her medications did not cause side effects. (Tr.
testified that, on a typical day, "I really stay at home
and I clean my house, do the laundry, cook a meal." (Tr.
41-42) On nice days, Plaintiff would go outside "and
mope around and do things, pick up little things and
stuff." (Tr. 42) Plaintiff spent most of her time at
home because her "vehicle has been broke [sic]
down[.]" (Tr. 41) Plaintiff testified that she had not
drunk alcohol in two or three years. (Tr. 42)
the ALJ asked why she could not work as a night clerk at a
hotel, Plaintiff responded, "I don't want to work at
night. I don't want to work as being a clerk or any of
that." (Tr. 41) Plaintiff stated she "tried working
one time in a station thing and I didn't like it... .that
was the ...first and the last night I worked there."
(Id.) When the ALJ asked Plaintiff whether she could
work in a hotel cleaning rooms by herself, Plaintiff said she
would not want to work alone because there is "too much
meanness going on in the world," but she was willing to
work in housekeeping. Id.
vocational expert testified that Plaintiffs previous work as
a bindery machinery feeder was "unskilled" and
"light," and that her previous work as personal
attendant was "semi-skilled" and "light."
(Tr. 44) The ALJ asked the vocational expert to consider a
hypothetical individual with the same age, education, and
past relevant work as Plaintiff, who was able to perform
medium work with the following limitations:
[C]an lift or carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five
pounds frequently. She can stand or walk for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. She can sit for six hours in an
eight-hour workday and she can push or pull in the limits for
lifting and carrying. She can have occasional contact with
coworkers, supervisors, and the general public. She should
not work with the general public as a primary job duty. She
should work in a socially isolated work environment and she
should not do teamwork type of job duties.
(Tr. 44) The vocational expert responded that this
hypothetical individual could perform Plaintiff s previous
work as a bindery machine feeder as it was "generally
performed," but not as "she described it."
Id. The vocational expert stated that the
hypothetical individual could also perform other
"medium, unskilled" jobs available in the national
or regional economy, such as a "boring machine
tender," linen room attendant, or riveting machine
operator. (Tr. 45)
Relevant Medical Records
August 2011, Plaintiff presented to psychiatrist Dr.
Mogallapu for psychotherapy and medication management. (Tr.
280-87) Since her last appointment in April 2010, her
husband's health had declined and he had been admitted to
a nursing facility. (Tr. 283) Despite financial stressors,
such as filing for bankruptcy and losing her house, Plaintiff
stated that she was "hopeful about her future."
(Tr. 283-84) Plaintiff reported that her "[a]nxiety is
okay, when she takes her meds... so she has been taking her
meds regularly." (Tr. 283) Upon examination, Plaintiffs
mood was "okay," concentration was
"good," affect was "euthymic, no overt
distress or dysphoria," and she displayed no aggressive
behavior. (Tr. 284) Plaintiff denied delusions,
hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts, and she appeared to be
alert and oriented with good concentration. (Tr. 284) Dr.
Mogallapu assigned a Global Assessment Functioning (GAF)
score of 55 and continued Plaintiffs citalopram,
buspirone, and trazodone. (Tr. 284-85, 425)
Plaintiff followed up with Dr. Mogallapu in December 2011,
she reported "doing ok, besides the sleep problems and
the fatigue at the end of the day." (Tr. 271) Plaintiff
informed Dr. Mogallapu that "she drinks whiskey - about
a couple of glasses every other night, after work. On the
weekends, she might drink a pint," but "[i]t
ain't that I got no alcohol problem[.]"
(Id.) Plaintiff s mental status examination revealed
normal mood and affect, good concentration, a GAF score of
55, and no delusions, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, or
aggression. (Tr. 272) Dr. Mogallapu expressed concern that
Plaintiff "might be minimizing the alcohol use" and
recommended participation in AA and anxiety management
groups. (Id.) Dr. Mogallapu prescribed mirtazapine,
continued buspirone, tapered citalopram, and discontinued
trazodone. (Tr. 273)
January 2012, Plaintiff visited psychotherapist Dr. Senioria
Brown. (Tr. 266-68) Plaintiff informed Dr. Brown that she had
been unemployed since November 2011 and had been living alone
since her husband moved to a long-term care facility three
months earlier. (Tr. 266) She also stated that she enjoyed
embroidering, sewing, and working outside. (Tr. 266)
Plaintiff expressed concern about the level of care her
husband was receiving at his facility and complained that the
mirtazapine made her feel "more depressed after I wake
up in the morning." (Tr. 268) Dr. Brown counseled
Plaintiff on the hazards of consuming alcohol while on
prescribed medication and referred her to vocational
rehabilitation "for possible assessment for job training
or job placement within her disability...."
days later, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Mogallapu's office.
(Tr. 259-264) Plaintiff reported: "I am doing
better" because "I am not drinking like
before." (Tr. 262) Plaintiff visited her husband every
day, and she recently attended her daughter's baby
shower. (Id.) Plaintiff informed Dr. Mogallapu that
her sleep was "allright [sic], with trazodone," but
she experienced "irritability and stress related to
current social stressors - esp. financial, housing,
etc." (Id.) Upon examination, Dr. Mogallapu
noted that Plaintiffs mood was "ok"; affect was
"mood congruent, can be irritable on topics related to
financial management"; and concentration was
"fair." (Tr. 263) Dr. Mogallapu assigned Plaintiff
a GAF score of 55, discontinued mirtazapine, started
Sertraline, continued buspirone, and restarted trazodone.
Plaintiff followed up with Dr. Mogallapu in February 2012,
she reported that she was "doing okay" and her
sleep "has actually been good lately." (Tr. 257)
Plaintiff expressed happiness about the birth of her grandson
and stated she had been helping her daughter, as well as
visiting her husband in the nursing home. (Id.)
Plaintiff reported that she had "several friends,"
one of whom accompanied Plaintiff to her appointment.
(Id.) Plaintiff denied drinking any alcohol since
her last appointment and stated she planned to "get
back into the work force.. .though she is not sure when she
might be trying to look for jobs." (Id.)
Plaintiffs mood and affect were normal, concentration was
good, and GAF was 55. (Tr. 258) Plaintiff declined referrals
to individual therapy, stress/anxiety and ...