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Ehlers v. Saul

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

September 16, 2019

MOLLY EHLERS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHRX. ROSS UNTIED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Plaintiff Molly Ehlers's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.[2]

         I. Background

         On January 16, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. Plaintiff was 27 years old at the time of filing, and she alleged disability beginning May 17, 2014 through March 31, 2016, the date she was last insured.

         The claim was initially denied on March 25, 2015. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested, and was granted, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which took place on December 9, 2016. On May 30, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision upholding the denial of benefits. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. On April 16, 2018, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. Thus, the decision of the ALT stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

         II. Decision of the ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2016, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 17, 2014, the alleged onset date of disability. The ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of narcolepsy, bipolar disorder, and mood disorder, but that no impairment or combination of impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

         Plaintiff also claimed disability due to anemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, arthritis, scoliosis, and sickle cell anemia. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiffs anemia was not among Plaintiffs disabling impairments because a March 2015 examination reflects that Plaintiff reported that her anemia had corrected itself. Likewise, the ALJ concluded that there was no evidence in the record to suggest that Plaintiff was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia.

         As to the polycystic ovarian syndrome, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff had not listed this condition among her disabling impairments in her application and failed to provide evidence that the condition imposes any work-related limitations. With regard to Plaintiffs arthritis and scoliosis, the ALJ concluded that there were no records from any medical professional diagnosing Plaintiff with these conditions, and the imaging of her knee and cervical spine were insufficient to establish a medically determinable impairment, The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work, except she was precluded from climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she was unable to work around unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; she was precluded from driving automobile equipment and working around large bodies of water or open flames; she could perform simple, routine tasks involving no more than simple, short instructions and simple work related decisions with few workplace changes; she could engage in occasional and non-transactional interaction with the general public; and she could sustain concentration and attention for two-hour periods.

         The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work; however, based on her age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including cleaner II, hand packager, and silver wrapper. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from the alleged onset date of May 17, 2014 through March 31, 2016, the date last insured.

         III. Administrative Record[3]

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

         A. Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ held a hearing in this matter on December 9, 2016, in Mobile, Alabama, where Plaintiff was residing at the time. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and Gail E. Jarrell, an impartial vocational expert. Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing.

         1. Plaintiffs testimony

          Plaintiff testified at the hearing as follows. Plaintiff has an associate's degree and has held several different jobs. Most recently she was employed as a housekeeping supervisor with Marriott Hotels from 2011 to May 2014. In 2006 and 2007, Plaintiff worked in the floral department at Randall Foods and Drugs. In 2007, she also worked the register at Bucky's Ltd. Plaintiff was employed as a filing clerk at South Shore Medical Center between 2005 and 2007, and that employment was secured through her school.

         Plaintiff began treating with James Hunter, M.D., for her narcolepsy after she and her family moved for her husband's job. Plaintiffs husband is a member of the military and is deployed for periods of time. Plaintiff initially had trouble with the medication-Adderall- prescribed for her narcolepsy. However, she eventually switched to Vyvanse, which has been treating her symptoms. Plaintiff discontinued Vyvanse between December 2015 and August 2016, while she was pregnant with twins (between December 2015 and August 2016). The twins were born prematurely, and Plaintiff suffered from postpartum depression.

         Plaintiff relies heavily on her husband for assistance with housework and the children; it was her testimony that she did the "bare minimum" when she was home alone. When asked by the ALJ whether Plaintiff was the primary caregiver at home, she responded "I would say my husband is, more than I am." (Tr. at 13).

         Since the twins were born, Plaintiff stated that her husband had been given special hours so that he was able to be at home more often. While her husband was at work, she drove her four-year-old son to school, where she was also a "room mother" at his classroom. Then, she took care of the twins, who were six months old on the day of the hearing.

         Before the twins were born, Plaintiffs husband was deployed for weeks at a time, and Plaintiff, with the aid of a nanny, cared for her son, who was three years old at the time. The nanny would take care of the house and do the dishes and the laundry.

         Plaintiff primarily experiences excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue. She describes her condition as being "half asleep at all times." (Tr. 23). However, at night, she has trouble falling asleep and generally feels sad and depressed. Plaintiff would take naps when she was employed, and she stated "And back then, I didn't even realize that disability was an option, so I thought that I just had to do whatever I could do to make it work." (Tr. at 24-25). Plaintiff and her husband and children traveled to Texas in November 2016 to attend Plaintiffs high school reunion. Plaintiff is able to drive and has no physician-imposed driving restrictions.

         2. Testimony of Vocational Expert

         The ALJ asked vocational expert, Gail Elizabeth Jarrell, the following questions:

Q: All right. For hypothetical number one, let's assume an individual the claimant's age, education and vocational experience. The individual can perform medium work. Based on the diagnosis of narcolepsy, no climbing of ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
No work around unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. No. driving of automotive equipment. No. work around large bodies of water or open flames. Can perform unskilled work, simple, routine tasks involving no more than simple, short instructions.
And simple work related decisions with few workplace changes. Occasional and non-transactional interaction with the general public. Can sustain concentration and attention for two hour periods. Could the ...

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