United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
TRUDY R. EARNEST, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. FLEISSIG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action is before this Court for judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security finding that
Plaintiff Trudy Earnest was not disabled, and thus not
entitled to supplemental security income (“SSI”)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383f. For the reasons set forth below, the
decision of the Commissioner will be reversed and the case
remanded for further proceedings.
Court adopts the statement of facts set forth in
Plaintiff’s Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (ECF No.
16) and Defendant’s Statement of Additional Facts (ECF
No. 23-2). Together, these statements provide a fair
description of the record before the Court. Specific facts
will be discussed as needed to address the parties’
who was born in 1971, filed her application for SSI in April
2013, claiming that she became disabled on July 1, 2007, due
to fibromyalgia, allodynia, hyperalgesia, chronic pain,
sacroiliac joint pain, sciatica pain and spasms, degenerative
disc disease, arthritis, high RH factor, severe
musculoskeletal pain, tingling and numbness in feet, shooting
pain down legs, and chronic pain in joints. Plaintiff later
amended her alleged onset date to March 12,
application was denied at the administrative level, and she
thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). On April 29, 2015, the ALJ heard
testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and
a vocational expert (“VE”). On August 2, 2016,
the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
certain jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy and was thus not disabled under the Act.
Upon judicial review, this Court remanded the case for
further consideration and development of the record with
respect to Plaintiff’s treating sources for functional
assessments as to how her impairments affect her ability to
engage in specific work-related activities. Earnest v.
Berryhill, 2:16-CV-00061-CDP, 2017 WL 2535674, at *1
(E.D. Mo. June 12, 2017). The Court also directed the ALJ to
base the reassessed RFC on some medical evidence in the
record and include a discussion and description of how the
evidence supports each RFC conclusion. Id. at *11.
remand, a supplemental administrative hearing was held on
December 6, 2017, at which Petitioner, a consulting medical
expert, and another VE testified. By decision dated April 30,
2018, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the RFC to
perform light work as defined by the Commissioner’s
regulations, except for the following limitations:
the claimant must have a sit/stand option allowing for a
change in position every thirty to sixty minutes for a few
minutes at a time while remaining at the work station with no
loss in production. The claimant can never climb ropes,
ladders or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. The claimant
must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration,
and work hazards such as unprotected heights and being around
dangerous moving machinery. The claimant can occasionally
reach overhead and can occasionally operate foot controls.
The claimant can understand, remember and carry out simple
instructions consistent with unskilled work, in a job with no
strict production quotas and the claimant would not be
subject to the demands of fast-paced production work; i.e.
work by shift, not by hour. The claimant can perform simple
decision-making related to basic work functions. The claimant
can tolerate only minor, infrequent changes within the
workplace and must avoid work involving intense or extensive
interpersonal interaction, handling complaints or
dissatisfied customers, or close proximity to co-workers. The
claimant can tolerate occasional interaction with co-workers
and supervisors, but no contact with the general public.
next found that Plaintiff could perform certain light
unskilled jobs listed in the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”) (e.g., marker, office helper, and
mail clerk), which the VE had testified that a hypothetical
person with Plaintiff’s RFC and vocational factors
(age, education, work experience) could perform and that were
available in significant numbers in the national economy.
Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
under the Act.
argues that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by
substantial evidence on the whole record because the ALJ
failed to follow the instructions on remand. Specifically,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to contact
Plaintiff’s treating sources for functional assessments
and erroneously discredited Plaintiff’s complaints of
pain. Thus, Plaintiff contends that the RFC is not supported
by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
ALJ’s Decision (Tr. 515-529)
found that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disk disease of the cervical spine with remove
history of repair surgery, fibromyalgia, obesity, major
depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
However, the ALJ found that none of these impairments, alone
or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of
impairments listed in the Commissioner’s
applying “paragraph B” criteria, as defined in
the Commissioner’s regulations for evaluating the
severity of medical impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had only mild limitations in understanding, remembering, or
applying information, and adapting or managing herself. The
ALJ further found moderate limitations in interacting with
others and in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace.
As such, the ALJ found that the paragraph B criteria were not
applying “paragraph C” criteria, the ALJ found
that, despite Plaintiff’s mental health issues, there
was no evidence of marginal adjustment in that Plaintiff had
not been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, had not
required emergent treatment, and was able to function outside
her home without substantial psychosocial supports.
determining Plaintiff’s RFC and limitations,
ALJ reviewed the following evidence. In December 2017,
Plaintiff testified that her conditions have left her in a
state of chronic pain, and she therefore has difficulties
with all physical activities. She testified that she can only
walk a short distance but will experience pain the entire
time. For example, Plaintiff testified that she can walk
around the grocery store when the electric chairs are not
available, and she is able to walk to her mailbox.
Plaintiff’s daughter and aunt help Plaintiff with the
housework. Plaintiff stated that she can sit without
discomfort for ten minutes and stand without discomfort for
twelve minutes. She also claims that she can lift two to
three pounds, and bending, squatting, or stooping aggravate
also testified that she still experiences issues with her
surgically repaired cervical spine, and she acknowledges that
all of her conditions are exacerbated by her obesity.
Plaintiff stated that because of her physical impairments,
she experiences depression and anxiety, which then affect her
ability to focus and concentrate and prevent her from
performing work-related activities.
also testified that she sees her primary care physician,
Jeffrey Wells, M.D., at the Hannibal Free Clinic, and he
prescribes pain medication (hydrocodone) and Savella, which
treats fibromyalgia. Plaintiff is uninsured, which is why she
treats at the free clinic. At the time of the December 6,
2017 hearing, Plaintiff testified that ...