United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
JENNIFER K. MINNEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge
claimant, Jennifer K. Minney (claimant), seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for
disability insurance benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security
Income (SSI), under Titles II and 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 in 1979. On February 27, 2007, the time claimant
alleged she became disabled, she was 28 years old. (AR 16,
158, 165). At the time of the ALJ's first
decision on May 18, 2012, she was 33 years old. (AR 27).
Claimant was 37 years old at the time of the ALJ's second
decision on June 2, 2016. (AR 158, 1460). Claimant completed
high school and had training as a phlebotomist; she had past
relevant work experience as a phlebotomist, residential aid,
sales clerk, laborer, salesperson, and child monitor. (AR 40,
223-24, 1459). Since the birth of her children, claimant has
described herself as a homemaker and homeschools her two
minor children, for whom she has served as their primary
caretaker. (AR 1454-55).
February 23, 2010, claimant filed an application for
disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on
February 27, 2007, due to bipolar disorder and borderline
personality disorder. (AR 16, 158, 165). The Commissioner
denied claimant's application initially and upon
reconsideration. (AR 16, 82, 93). On February 8, 2012, ALJ
Eric S. Basse held a video hearing and on May 12, 2012,
issued a decision finding claimant was not disabled. (AR 13,
April 12, 2013, claimant sought judicial review of the
ALJ's decision in this Court. (Minney v. Colvin,
13-cv-0037-JSS, Doc. 16, at 2). On March 5, 2013, this Court
reversed the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for
further development of her treating psychiatrist Ali
Safdar's opinion and with instructions that the ALJ
“provide clear reasons for accepting or rejecting Dr.
Safdar's opinions and support his reasons with evidence
from the record.” (Id., at 23). In reversing
the ALJ's decision, this Court noted that it was a
“close issue, ” but found the ALJ: (1)
“simply provided a generic and conclusory statement
that Dr. Safdar's opinions are ‘inconsistent with
[Minney's] own reports regarding her activities of daily
living, '”; (2) “offer[ed] little or no
discussion of Minney's activities of daily living”
or explained how those activities are “inconsistent
with Dr. Safdar's opinions”; (3) “failed to
address, let alone offer even one single reason why Dr.
Safdar's opinion on the issue of decompensation should be
disregarded” as well as the opinion of Carla Levi, a
counselor on Dr. Safdar's staff who also saw claimant;
(4) and improperly relied on “submission of one
inconsistent GAF score” as a reason “standing
alone” to reject Dr. Safdar's opinions.”
(Id., at 21-23).
April 6, 2016, the ALJ held a supplemental hearing. (AR 1441,
1472). On June 2, 2016, the ALJ issued his decision, again
denying benefits. (AR 1438). After sixty days, the ALJ's
decision became the final agency decision on remand. (AR
September 26, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this Court.
(Doc. 1). On March 8, 2017, claimant filed her brief (Doc.
10), and on April 5, 2017, the Commissioner filed her brief
(Doc. 12). On April 18, 2017, the Court deemed the case ready
for decision and the Honorable Leonard T. Strand, Chief
United States District Court Judge, 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). 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.
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” work activity involves significant
mental or physical activities. “Gainful” activity
is work done for pay or profit, even if the claimant does not
ultimately receive pay or profit.
if the 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. 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 having the ability
and aptitude necessary to perform most jobs. 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. 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/her past
relevant work. If the claimant can still perform past
relevant work, then the claimant is considered not disabled.
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. A claimant's “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). 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. If a claimant retains enough RFC to
perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not
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). If the claimant can make the adjustment, then the
Commissioner will find the claimant is 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.
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
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
engaged in the five-step sequential analysis outlined above,
as reflected in his written decision.
One, the ALJ found claimant had not been engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 27, 2007. (AR
Two, the ALJ determined claimant had the following severe
impairments: “obesity, asthma, migraines, mood
disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar affective
disorder, borderline personality disorder, history of