United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
LEONARD T. STRAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Noah William Crum seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying his application 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). Crum 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, I recommend that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed.
Crum was born in 1959 and has an associate's degree in banking and finance. AR 28, 82. He has worked as a retail store manager, a cashier, a salesperson, a truck loader and a yard worker. AR 82. He applied for DIB and SSI benefits on January 9, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of May 18, 2008. AR 245-57. He alleged disability due to heart problems, depression, metal plates in his legs, hernia and diabetes. AR 284. On April 23, 2009, his claims were denied. AR 138-41. Crum then filed a request for reconsideration, which was denied. AR 145-46, 155-65.
Crum then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). AR 166-68. The first hearing occurred on March 16, 2011, and was held before ALJ Ronald Lahners. AR 116-27. Crum and a vocational expert (VE) testified. AR 77-107. On April 21, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying Crum's claim. AR 116-27.
Crum then sought review by the Appeals Council. AR 202-03. On May 10, 2012, the Appeals Council granted Crum's request and remanded the case to the ALJ with directions for further proceedings. AR 134-36. A second hearing was held on November 27, 2012, during which Crum and the VE again testified. AR 36. During that hearing, Crum amended the alleged onset date of disability to December 17, 2009, his fiftieth birthday. AR 10, 41-43.
On January 29, 2013, the ALJ again denied Crum's claims. AR 10-29. Crum again sought review by the Appeals Council. AR 5. On May 13, 2014, the Appeals Council denied his request. AR 1-4. The ALJ's second decision thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1; 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
On July 9, 2013, Crum filed a complaint (Doc. No. 3) in this court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. This matter has been referred to me pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for the filing of a report and recommended disposition of the case. 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A); accord 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(B).
To determine whether a claimant has a disability within the meaning of the 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 activities." Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521(a), 416.920(c), 416.920(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), 416.921(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), 416.921(b)(1)-(6); see also Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (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), 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d); see also 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), 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.945(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 also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(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), 416.945(a)(3). The Commissioner will also 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), 416.920(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 show 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 show 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. §§ 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 disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). At Step Five, while the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner, the burden of persuasion to prove disability remains on the claimant. Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).
III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
The ALJ made the following findings:
(1) The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
(2) The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 17, 2009, the amended alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq. ).
(3) The claimant has the following severe impairments: depressive disorder, not otherwise specified (NOS); anxiety disorder, NOS; diabetes mellitus; a history of atherosclerotic heart disease; hypertension; and obesity (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
(4) The 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 C.F.R. § Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
(5) After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), i.e., he can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand six hours in an eight-hour workday; walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; and has unlimited use of the extremities. He should avoid climbing ladders and scaffolding. He should avoid constant fingering, bilaterally. He should avoid concentrated vibration. Due to his mental impairments, he should be able to remember and understand instructions, procedures, and locations. Due to trying to interact with supervisors, co-workers, and the public would need to look at some type of employment that would be absolutely minimized and certainly not working with the general public at all. He could exercise good judgment and respond appropriately to changes in the workplace.
(6) The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. § 404.1565 and 416.965).
(7) The claimant was born on December 17, 1959 and was 50 years old, which is defined as a person closely approaching advanced age (age 50-54), on the amended alleged disability onset date (20 C.F.R. § 404.1563 and 416.963).
(8) The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. § 404.1564 and 416.964).
(9) Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills. (See SSR 82-41 and 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
(10) Considering 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 claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. § 404.1569, 404-1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
(11) The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from December 17, 2009, the amended alleged onset date, through the date of this ...