United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Florice Whalen (claimant), seeks judicial review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental
security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et. seq. Claimant alleged she was
disabled because of a torn right shoulder rotator cuff.
Although the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found claimant
had severe impairments consisting of right shoulder
degenerative joint disease with residuals of surgery, mood
disorder, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine,
and asthma (AR 12),  he found claimant had the residual
functional capacity to perform light work with certain
exertional and nonexertional limitations. (AR 14). Therefore,
the ALJ found claimant was not disabled. (AR 21). Claimant
contends the ALJ erred when he improperly: (1) weighed the
opinion of claimant's treating physician; (2) assessed
claimant's credibility; and (3) relied upon vocational
expert testimony elicited in response to an incomplete
hypothetical question. (Doc. 16). For the reasons that
follow, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
was born in 1965 and was forty-six years old at the time of
her application. (AR 249, 298). Claimant completed high
school. (AR 303). Claimant reported past work as a child care
provider, a ham trimmer, a home care provider, a housekeeper,
and an airport ramp operator (loaded and unloaded airplanes).
(AR 35, 303). Claimant initially alleged she became disabled
on October 12, 2007, (AR 249), but at the hearing she amended
the alleged date of the onset of her disability to December
5, 2012. (AR 33).
December 5, 2012, claimant filed her application for
disability benefits. (AR 249-57). The Commissioner denied
claimant's application initially and upon
reconsideration. (AR 136, 154). Claimant then requested a
hearing before an ALJ. On September 3, 2014, ALJ David G.
Buell conducted a hearing; claimant appeared in person and
testified, as did Randall Harding, a vocational expert. (AR
28-70). On September 18, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision
denying claimant's application. (AR 10-21). On December
11, 2015, the Appeals Council denied claimant's request
for review (AR 1-3), leaving the ALJ's decision as the
final decision of the Commissioner.
February 11, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this Court
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 5).
On April 25, 2016, with the consent of the parties, United
States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade transferred
this case to a United States Magistrate Judge for final
disposition and entry of judgment. (Doc. 14). The parties
have now briefed the issues, and on August 31, 2016, the
Court deemed this matter fully submitted and ready for
decision. (Doc. 18).
DISABILITY DETERMINATOINS AND THE BURDEN OF
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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A), 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a).
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).
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. § 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. §
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 also 20 C.F.R. §§
ability to do basic work activities is defined as “the
abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.921(b). These abilities and aptitudes
include: “(1) [p]hysical functions such as walking,
standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching,
carrying, or handling; (2) [c]apacities for seeing, hearing,
and speaking; (3) [u]nderstanding, carrying out, and
remembering simple instructions; (4) [u]se of judgment; (5)
[r]esponding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and
usual work situations; and (6) [d]ealing with changes in a
routine work setting.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.921(b)(1)-(6); see 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 and citation omitted).
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.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d); see Kelley
v. Callahan, 133 F.3d 583, 588 (8th Cir. 1998).
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. §§ 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 and citation
omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. § 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. §
416.945(a)(3). The Commissioner also will consider certain
non-medical evidence and other evidence listed in the
regulations. Id. If a claimant retains the RFC to
perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
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, and his or her age, education, and work experience.
See Bladow v. Apfel, 205 F.3d 356, 358 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 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. § 416.920(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. §
416.920(a)(4)(v). At step five, even though 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.
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
engaged in the five-step sequential analysis outlined above,
as reflected in her written decision.
one, the ALJ found claimant was not gainfully employed and
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
December 5, 2012. (AR 12).
two, the ALJ determined claimant had the following severe
impairments: right shoulder degenerative joint disease with
residuals of surgery; mood disorder; degenerative disc
disease of the cervical spine; and asthma. (AR 12).
three, the ALJ determined claimant did not have an impairment
or a combination of impairments which met or medically
equaled the severity of a listed impairment in 20 ...