United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
JEFFREY D. KENNEDY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Jeffrey D Kennedy, Plaintiff: David A Scott, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cornwall Avery Bjornstad Scott, Spencer, 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.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
LEONARD T. STRAND, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Plaintiff Jeffrey D. Kennedy seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his applications for Social Security Disability benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Act). Kennedy 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. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.
Kennedy was born in 1970 and has past work as a construction worker, landscape laborer, production worker/production machine worker and injection molding machine
operator. AR 19. He filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 28, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of November 15, 2009. AR 207-15. He alleged disability due to chronic back problems, depression and suicidal thoughts. AR 240. His claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR 8. Kennedy then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on June 13, 2012, before ALJ Robert Maxwell. AR 8, 30-76. During the hearing, Kennedy and a vocational expert (VE) testified. AR 30-76. On July 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Kennedy's claim. AR 8-21. Kennedy sought review of this decision by the Appeals Council, which denied review on October 11, 2013. AR 1-4. The ALJ's decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
On December 9, 2013, Kennedy filed a complaint (Doc. No. 2) in this court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. On January 9, 2014, with the parties' consent (Doc. No. 6), 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 which 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); accord 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1505, 416.905. 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 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, 416.920; 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), 416.920(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 ...