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Devary v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

March 19, 2014

BOBBY ALAN DEVARY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

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For Bobby Alan DeVary, Plaintiff: F David Eastman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Eastman Law Firm, Clear Lake, IA.

For Commissioner of Social Security, agent of, Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant: Stephanie Johnson Wright, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, IA.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LEONARD T. STRAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Plaintiff Bobby Alan Devary seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application for Social Security Disability benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Act). Devary contends that the administrative record (AR) does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that he was not disabled during the relevant period of time. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Devary was born in 1970 and previously worked as a construction worker and combination welder. AR 272. He protectively filed for DIB on April 11, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of November 10, 2010. AR 14. Devary alleged disability due to various physical impairments, including degenerative joint disease in both knees, carpal tunnel syndrome and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. AR 16. His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 14. He then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and on September 25, 2012, ALJ Hallie E. Larsen held a hearing during which Devary and a vocational expert (VE) testified. AR 30-57.

On October 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding Devary was not disabled from November 10, 2010, through the date of her decision. AR 14-23. Devary sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied review on June 12, 2013. AR 1-3. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

On July 23, 2013, Devary filed a complaint (Doc. No. 4) in this court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. On August 20, 2013, with the parties' consent (Doc. No. 7), the Honorable Mark W. Bennett transferred this case to me for final disposition and entry of judgment. The parties have briefed the issues and the matter is now fully submitted.

II. DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS AND THE BURDEN OF PROOF

A disability is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. A claimant has a disability when the claimant is " not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists . . . in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in

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several regions of the country." 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

To determine whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007). First, the Commissioner will consider a claimant's work activity. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).

Second, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner looks to see " whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities." Dixon v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 602, 605 (8th Cir. 2003). " An impairment is not severe if it amounts only to a slight abnormality that would not significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707; see 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(c), 404.1521(a).

The ability to do basic work activities is defined as " the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b). These abilities and aptitudes include (1) physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling; (2) capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking; (3) understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; (4) use of judgment; (5) responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations; and (6) dealing with changes in a routine work setting. Id. § 404.1521(b)(1)-(6); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2291, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987). " The sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two only when the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on her ability to work." Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Third, if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the Commissioner will consider the medical severity of the impairment. If the impairment meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the regulations, then the claimant is considered disabled, regardless of age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1520(d); see Kelley v. Callahan, 133 F.3d 583, 588 (8th Cir. 1998).

Fourth, if the claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not meet or equal one of the presumptively disabling impairments, then the Commissioner will assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine the claimant's " ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements" of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4). " RFC is a medical question defined wholly in terms of the claimant's physical ability to perform exertional tasks or, in other words, what the claimant can still do despite his or her physical or mental limitations." Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The claimant is responsible for providing evidence the Commissioner will use to make a finding as to the claimant's RFC, but the Commissioner is responsible for developing the claimant's " complete medical history, including arranging for a consultative examination(s) if necessary, and making every reasonable effort to help [the claimant] get medical reports from [the claimant's] own medical sources." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3).

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The Commissioner also will consider certain non-medical evidence and other evidence listed in the regulations. See id. If a claimant retains the RFC to perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not disabled. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).

Fifth, if the claimant's RFC as determined in Step Four will not allow the claimant to perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there is other work that the claimant can do, given the claimant's RFC as determined at Step Four, and his or her age, education, and work experience. See Bladow v. Apfel, 205 F.3d 356, 358-59 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000). The Commissioner must prove not only that the claimant's RFC will allow the claimant to make an adjustment to other work, but also that the other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, then the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, then the Commissioner will find that the claimant is ...


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