United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
MELISSA M. REINHARDT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
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.
reasons that follow, I recommend the District Court affirm
the Commissioner's decision.
was born on September 1, 1989, and was 25 years old at the
time of the ALJ's decision. (AR 35). Claimant
completed high school and is able to communicate in English.
applied for benefits on December 3, 2014, alleging disability
since January 1, 2008,  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).
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.
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 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. §
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).
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.
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).
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).
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. §
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
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.
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
One, the ALJ found claimant had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since November 3, 2014, the application
Two, the ALJ found claimant had the following severe
impairments: bipolar disorder, ADHD, borderline personality
disorder, anxiety disorder, and ...