United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams, Chief United States Magistrate Judge
claimant, Semka Music (claimant), seeks judicial review of a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
Commissioner) denying her application for disability
insurance benefits, under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Act). Claimant
contends that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in
determining that she was not disabled.
reasons that follow, I recommend the District Court reverse
and remand the Commissioner's decision.
was born on October 25, 1974, in Bosnia, and was 37 years old
at the time of her alleged disability onset date. (AR 12-21,
29, 53). Claimant completed eight years of
schooling in Bosnia, and finished her G.E.D. in the United
States. (AR 30). At the time of the ALJ hearing, claimant
testified that she was married with four children (ages 22,
21, 14, and one-month old); and she resided with her
one-month old child, her spouse, and her sister and her
sister's husband and their 21 year-old son. (AR 30).
Claimant has worked as a cook in a gas station, sanding
cabinets, as a textile worker, cook, meat packer, housekeeper
and an Avon sales person. (AR 31-35).
12, 2012, claimant filed an application for disability
benefits, alleging disability beginning December 21, 2011.
(AR 157). Claimant claimed she was disabled due to lupus. (AR
August 22, 2012, the Commissioner denied claimant's
application (AR 91-94), and on November 20, 2012, denied her
request for reconsideration. (AR 96-99). On December 11,
2013, an ALJ convened a video hearing at which claimant and a
vocational expert testified. (AR 11-21). On January 9, 2015,
the ALJ found claimant was not disabled. (Id.). On
March 22, 2016, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's
finding. (AR 1-4). The ALJ's decision, thus, became the
final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
19, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this court. (Doc. 3).
The parties have briefed the issues, and on December 28,
2016, this case was deemed fully submitted. (Doc. 16). On the
same day, the Honorable Linda R. Reade, Chief United States
District Court Judge, referred this case to me for a Report
DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS 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); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1505. An individual has a disability when, due to
his/her physical or mental impairments, he/she “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). If the claimant is able to do
work which exists in the national economy but is unemployed
because of inability to get work, lack of opportunities in
the local area, economic conditions, employer hiring
practices, or other factors, the ALJ will still find the
claimant not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(c)(1)-(8).
determine whether a claimant has a disability within the
meaning of the Act, the Commissioner follows the five-step
sequential evaluation process outlined in the regulations.
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.
“Substantial” activity involves significant
mental or physical activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a).
“Gainful” activity is work done for pay or
profit, even if the claimant does not ultimately receive pay
or profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b).
if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, then the Commissioner looks to the severity of the
claimant's physical and mental impairments. If the
impairments are not severe, then the claimant is not
disabled. An impairment is not severe if it does not
significantly limit a claimant's physical or mental
ability to perform basic work activities. Kirby, 500
F.3d at 707.
ability to do basic work activities means the ability and
aptitude necessary to perform most jobs. These 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. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987).
if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the
Commissioner will determine 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. 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) and the demands of his past
relevant work. If the claimant can still do his past relevant
work, then he is considered not disabled. Past relevant work
is any work the claimant performed within the past fifteen
years of his application that was substantial gainful
activity and lasted long enough for the claimant to learn how
to do it. “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 omitted). The RFC is
based on all relevant medical and other evidence. The
claimant is responsible for providing the evidence the
Commissioner will use to determine the RFC. Id. If a
claimant retains enough RFC to perform past relevant work,
then the claimant is not disabled.
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 there is other work
the claimant can do, given the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. The Commissioner must show
not only that the claimant's RFC will allow him or her to
make the 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). If the claimant can make the adjustment, then the
Commissioner will find the claimant not disabled. At Step
Five, the Commissioner has the responsibility of developing
the claimant's complete medical history before making a
determination about the existence of a disability. 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 had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 21, 2011, the date of alleged
onset of disability. (AR 14).
Two, the ALJ determined claimant had severe systemic lupus
erythematosus. The ALJ found claimant had four other
medically determinable physical impairments that were not
“severe” within the meaning of the
Commissioner's Regulations: a cut on her arm with an
episode of ...