United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
NATESHA R. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
Natesha R. Davis (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
also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security
income which was also denied. Claimant contends that the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in determining she was
reasons that follow, I recommend the District Court affirm
the Commissioner's decision.
was born in 1967 and was 47 years old at the time of the
ALJ's decision to deny benefits. Claimant completed
limited schooling. (AR 28). Claimant filed her application
for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental
Security Income benefits on October 29, 2012. (AR 17).
Claimant asserted that her disability began December 31,
2009, at age 42, for impairments that include degenerative
joint disease (right knee), mild scoliosis, mild obesity,
major depressive disorder, and borderline intellectual
functioning. (AR 17-20). The Social Security Administration
denied the claimant's application initially and upon
reconsideration. (AR 146-9, 150-4, 157-60, 161-4). Claimant
timely filed a Request for Hearing, and a hearing was held on
September 17, 2014, before the Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). On February 11, 2015, the ALJ determined that claimant
was able to perform past relevant work as a store laborer.
(AR 28). The ALJ further determined that there was other work
the claimant could perform, such as folder and marker. (AR
29). As a result, the ALJ determined claimant was not
disabled and was not entitled to benefits.
timely requested review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied review on May 31,
2016. (AR 1-6). The ALJ's decision, thus, became the
final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
On August 3, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this court.
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 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 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. 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 claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity, then 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 claimant does not ultimately receive pay or
profit. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(b).
if claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity,
then the Commissioner looks to the severity of claimant's
physical and medical impairments. If the impairments are not
severe, then 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 do 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 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 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 claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not meet
or equal one of the presumptively disabling impairments, then
the Commissioner will assess claimant's residual
functional capacity (RFC) and the demands of his/her past
relevant work. If claimant can still do his/her past relevant
work, then he/she is considered not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4). Past
relevant work is any work claimant has done within the past
15 years of his/her application that was substantial gainful
activity and lasted long enough for 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 claimant's
physical ability to perform exertional tasks or, in other
words, what 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). 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 claimant is not disabled.
(Id.). § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
if claimant's RFC, as determined in Step Four, will not
allow claimant to perform past relevant work, then the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to show there is other work
claimant can do, given 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 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 claimant
can make the adjustment, then the Commissioner will find
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
At Step Five, the Commissioner has the responsibility of
developing 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 claimant. Stormo v.
Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).
after these five steps, the ALJ has determined 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 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 claimant is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535.
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
engaged in the five-step sequential analysis outlined above,
as reflected in his written decision.
1, the ALJ found claimant had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 31, 2009, the alleged date of
onset of disability. Although claimant worked after that
date, the ALJ concluded that work activity did not amount to
gainful employment. (AR 19).
2, the ALJ determined claimant had the following severe
impairments: degenerative joint disease (right knee), mild
scoliosis, mild obesity, major depressive disorder, and
borderline intellectual functioning. (AR 20). The ALJ
acknowledged other impairments that were listed in the
record, but found they did not cause ...