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Reinhardt v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

March 20, 2017

MELISSA M. REINHARDT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          C.J. Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

         The claimant, Melissa M. Reinhardt (claimant), seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental disability benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Act). Claimant contends that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in determining she was not disabled.

         For the reasons that follow, I recommend the District Court affirm the Commissioner's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Claimant was born on September 1, 1989, and was 25 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (AR 35).[1] Claimant completed high school and is able to communicate in English. Id.

         Claimant applied for benefits on December 3, 2014, alleging disability since January 1, 2008, [2] due to several mental conditions. (AR 151, 174). After a hearing on March 28, 2016, the ALJ ruled against claimant on April 13, 2016. (AR 26-35, 41). Claimant filed a request for review, which the Appeals Council denied on June 3, 2016. (AR 1). Thus, the ALJ's decision is the Commissioner's final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

         On July 29, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this Court. (Doc. 4). The parties have briefed the issues, and on February 13, 2017, this case was deemed fully submitted. (Doc. 19). On the same day, the Honorable Linda R. Reade referred this case to me for a Report and Recommendation.

         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 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 a claimant is able to perform 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).

         To 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. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007). First, the Commissioner will consider a claimant's work activity. If a claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). “Substantial” work 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).

         Second, if a claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, then the Commissioner looks to the severity of the claimant's physical and medical impairments. If the impairments are not severe, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An impairment is not severe if “it does not significantly limit your physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c); Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707.

         The ability to perform basic work activities means having “the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(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.” Id. § 404.1521(b)(1)-(6); see Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987).

         Third, if a 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. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 404.1520(d); see Kelley v. Callahan, 133 F.3d 583, 588 (8th Cir. 1998).

         Fourth, if a 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 the claimant's past relevant work. If the claimant can still perform past relevant work, then the claimant is considered not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4). Past relevant work is any work the claimant has done within the past 15 years of his/her application that was substantial gainful activity and lasted long enough for the claimant to learn how to do it. 20 C.F.R. § 416.960(b)(1). “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 citations omitted); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). The RFC is based on all relevant medical and other evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). 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. Id. § 404.1520(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 there is other work the claimant can do, given the claimant's RFC, 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 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); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can make the adjustment, then the Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). 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. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). The burden of persuasion to prove disability remains on the claimant. Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).

         If after these five steps, the ALJ has determined the claimant is disabled, but there is medical evidence of substance use disorders, the ALJ must decide if that substance use was a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(C). The ALJ must then evaluate the extent of the claimant's limitations without the substance use. Id. If the limitations would not be disabling, then the disorder is a contributing factor material to determining disability, and the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535.

         III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         At Step One, the ALJ found claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 3, 2014, the application date.

         At Step Two, the ALJ found claimant had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, and ...


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