United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division
DONALD E. O'BRIEN, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the Court pursuant to Tauni Dyre's [hereinafter Ms. Dyre] application for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court has considered the parties' arguments and briefs and now enters the following.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Ms. Dyre was born October 17, 1989. She was 22 years of age at the time of the hearing. Ms. Dyre has an eighth grade education and has not completed her GED. Prior to dropping out of school, Ms. Dyre participated in special education classes. Ms. Dyre does not drive and does not have a driver's license. At the time of the hearing, Ms. Dyre had one child, but did not have custody of the child. Ms. Dyre lives with Grandparents and is supported by both her Mother and her Grandparents. Ms. Dyre has no work history and previously applied for benefits in 2006, 2007, and 2009.
Ms. Dyre claims disability based on variety of mental impairments, including: bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, learning disabilities, generalized anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder; avoidant personality disorder and mild mental retardation.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Ms. Dyre filed her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits on January 28, 2011. At the time of the application, she was 21 years old. The claim was denied initially on March 4, 2011, and upon reconsideration on May 19, 2011. Ms. Dyre appeared for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge [ALJ] on October 2, 2012. On November 16, 2012, the ALJ denied Ms. Dyre's claim. Ms. Dyre appealed, and her appeal was denied on October 30, 2013. Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Dyre filed the present case on January 21, 2014.
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.
Docket No. 9, Tr. 15.
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 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. Dyre has not engaged in substantial gainful employment since April 28, 2011, the alleged onset date. The ALJ stated that Ms. Dyre has the following severe impairments: Borderline Intellectual Functioning (BIF), Bipolar Disorder vs. Major Depressive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Avoidant Personality Disorder. However, the ALJ found that Ms. Dyre did not suffer from a disability as contemplated by the Social Security Code. Specifically, the ALJ stated:
[t]he claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
Docket No. 9, Tr. 17.
The ALJ considered Ms. Dyre'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. Dyre's mental impairments did not meet either set of requirements. Docket No. 9, Tr. 18.
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 nonexei1ional limitations (would have an SVP of 3): The claimant is limited to simple routine tasks and requires a job with no contact with the general public, or limited contact with fellow workers.
Docket No. 9 Tr. 19. The ALJ than considered the plaintiff's credibility under the Polaski standard and stated:
although the claimant described disabling symptoms as a result of her medical impairments, the record is not consistent with those allegations. The above residual functional capacity assessment is supported by the objective medical evidence, the medical opinions when afforded appropriate weight, and the claimant's subjective complaints during the relevant period when taken in proper context. In view of all of the factors discussed above, the limitations on the claimant's capacities which were described earlier in this decision are considered warranted, but no greater or additional limitations are justified. Docket No. 9, Tr. 22. The ALJ also discounted the statements of Shelly Dyre, the Plaintiff's mother.
The ALJ determined that:
[c]onsidering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the ...