United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division
DONALD E. O'BRIEN, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the Court pursuant to Loralyn Rehnblom's [hereinafter Ms. Rehnblom] application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. The parties appeared for a hearing on November 14, 2013. After considering the parties' arguments, the Court took the matter under advisement and now enters the following.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Ms. Rehnblom was born November 7, 1968, and was 41 years old at the time the application was filed. She has a limited education; she took special education classes throughout her life, and she only finished the ninth grade. She is divorced with four children. She and two of her children live with her mother in the Webster City, Iowa, area.
Ms. Rehnblom claims disability based upon a number of mental and emotional issues, including depression, anxiety, and limited mental functioning.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Ms. Rehnblom filed her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. on January 5, 2010. Her claim was denied initially on June 3, 2010, and upon reconsideration on July 30, 2010. On October 17, 2011, Ms. Rehnblom appeared in Fort Dodge for a video hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Sandbothe. On December 13, 2011, the ALJ denied Ms. Rehnblom's claim. Ms. Rehnblom appealed her claim to the Appeals Council, who denied it on February 12, 2013. Ms. Rehnblom then filed the present Complaint on March 6, 2013.
The ALJ set out the issue presently before the Court:
[t]he issue is whether the claimant is disabled under section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Disability is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that 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 12 months. Although supplemental security income is not payable prior to the month following the month in which the application was filed (20 CFR 416.335), the undersigned has considered the complete medical history consistent with 20 CFR 416.912(d).
Docket No. 9, Tr. 14.
Under the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled and entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The five successive steps are: (1) determination of whether a plaintiff is engaged in "substantial gainful activity, " (2) determination of whether a plaintiff has a "severe medically determinable physical or medical impairment" that lasts for at least 12 months, (3) determination of whether a plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment, (4) determination of whether a plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) indicates an incapacity to perform the requirements of their past relevant work, and (5) determination of whether, given a Plaintiff's RFC, age, education and work experience, a plaintiff can "make an adjustment to other work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(4)(i-v).
At step one, if a plaintiff is engaged in "substantial gainful activity" within the claimed period of disability, there is no disability during that time. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). At step 2, if a plaintiff does not have a "severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment" that lasts at least 12 months, there is no disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). At step 3, if a plaintiff's impairments meet or medically equal the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and last at least 12 months, a plaintiff is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Before proceeding to step 4 and 5, the ALJ must determine a plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity [RFC]. RFC is the "most" a person "can still do" despite their limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The RFC an ALJ assigns a plaintiff has been referred to as the "most important issue in a disability case...." Malloy v. Astrue , 604 F.Supp.2d 1247, 1250 (S.D. Iowa 2009) (citing McCoy v. Schweiker , 683 F.2d 1138, 1147 (8th Cir. 1982)(en banc) abrogated on other grounds by Higgins v. Apfel , 222 F.3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000)). When determining the RFC, the ALJ must consider all of the relevant evidence and all of the Plaintiff's impairments, even those which are not deemed severe, as well as limitations which result from symptoms, such as pain. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2) and (3). An ALJ "may not simply draw his own inferences about a plaintiff's functional ability from medical reports." Strongson v. Barnhart , 361 F.3d 1066, 1070 (8th Cir. 2004).
At step 4, if, given a plaintiff's RFC, a plaintiff can still perform their past relevant work, there is no disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). At step 5, if, given a plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and work experience, a plaintiff can make an adjustment to other work, there is no disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(v). This step requires the ALJ to provide "evidence" that a plaintiff could perform "other work [that] exists in significant numbers in the national economy." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2). In other words, at step 5, the burden of proof shifts from a plaintiff to the Commissioner of the S.S.A.. Basinger v. Heckler , 725 F.2d 1166, 1168 (8th Cir. 1984). The ALJ generally calls a Vocational Expert (VE) to aid in determining whether this burden can be met.
In this case, the ALJ applied the appropriate methodology and found that Ms. Rehnblom had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 5, 2010. The ALJ found that she had several severe impairments: depression, anxiety, and borderline intellectual functioning. The ALJ also noted other impairments he found non-severe, including: migraine headaches and asthma. However, the ALJ found that Ms. Rehnblom does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or exceed a listed impairment. Specifically, the ALJ stated:
[t]he record does not contain medical findings obtained on clinical examination or special study, which are the same as or equal to any of those listed in any subsection of the Listing of Impairments. The undersigned has reviewed all of the evidence and concludes that the claimant's severe impairments do not meet or equal the severity of any listing.
Docket No. 9, Tr. 17. The ALJ considered Ms. Rehnblom's mental impairments using the "paragraph B" criteria and the "paragraph C" criteria as set out in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926) and determined that Ms. Rehnblom's mental impairment did not meet either set of requirements.
The ALJ went on to consider residual functional capacity and concluded:
[a]fter careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant can perform work involving only simple, routine, repetitive tasks, at no more than a regular pace, and requiring no contact with the public.
Docket No. 9 Tr. 19.
The ALJ than considered the plaintiff's credibility under the Polaski standard and stated:
[a]fter careful consideration of the evidence, the undersigned finds that the claimant's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms; however, the claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the ...