United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
MARY F. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
claimant, Mary F. Johnson (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
the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in determining that
she was not disabled.
reasons that follow, I recommend the District Court affirm
the Commissioner's decision.
the facts as set forth in the parties' Joint Statement of
Facts and therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here.
(Doc. 15). Claimant was born in June 1962 and therefore was
49 years old on the date of the alleged onset of disability
and 52 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (AR
154-55). Claimant has a high school education,
attended college, and obtained an associate's degree. (AR
156-57, 594). Claimant has past relevant work as a home
health aide, a housing counselor, an employment clerk, and as
a child care provider. (AR 136, 155).
August 7, 2012, claimant protectively filed an application
for disability benefits alleging a disability onset date of
May 20, 2011. (AR 126, 311, 519). Claimant asserted she was
disabled due to degenerative disc disease, obesity, kidney
disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. (AR 129).
Social Security Administration denied claimant's
disability application initially and on reconsideration. (AR
284-85, 306-07). On February 6, 2014, an ALJ found claimant
was not disabled. (AR 308). On April 15, 2014, the Appeals
Council remanded the case, directing the ALJ to hold a new
hearing and to take further action to complete the
administrative record. (AR 330-32). On September 11, 2014,
ALJ Julie K. Bruntz held a second hearing at which claimant
and a vocational expert testified. (AR 149-86). On October
20, 2014, the ALJ found claimant was not disabled. (AR
126-37). On February 9, 2016, the Appeals Council affirmed
the ALJ's finding. (AR 1-5). The ALJ's decision,
thus, became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20
C.F.R. § 404.981.
April 14, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this Court.
(Doc. 3). Between February and April 2017, the parties
briefed the issues. (Docs. 16, 19, & 20). On April 4,
2017, the Court deemed this case fully submitted and ready
for decision. (Doc. 21). On the same day, the Honorable
Leonard T. Strand, Chief United States District Court Judge,
referred this case to a United States Magistrate Judge 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),
1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual has a disability when, due to
his physical or mental impairments, he “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), 1382c(a)(3)(B). 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, 707-08 (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 physical or
mental activities. “Gainful” activity is work
done for pay or profit, even if the claimant did 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 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);
20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(b).
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 [ ] her physical or mental
limitations.” Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642,
646 (8th Cir. 2003) (citations and internal quotation marks
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 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
made the following findings at each step.
One, the ALJ found that claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 20, 2011, the alleged
onset date. (AR 129).
Two, the ALJ found that claimant had the severe impairments
of “degenerative disc disease; obesity; kidney disease;
diabetes; and high blood pressure.” (Id.).
Three, the ALJ found that none of claimant's impairments
equaled a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the
relevant regulations. (AR 130).
Four, the ALJ found claimant had residual functional capacity
to perform sedentary work, with following ...