Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Johnson v. Berryhill

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

July 17, 2017

MARY F. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         The 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.

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

         I. BACKGROUND

         I adopt 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).[1] 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).

         On 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).

         The 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.

         On 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.


         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), 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.

         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. 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.

         Second, 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.

         The 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).

         Third, 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).

         Fourth, 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.

         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. 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. 2004).


         The ALJ made the following findings at each step.

         At Step One, the ALJ found that claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 20, 2011, the alleged onset date. (AR 129).

         At Step Two, the ALJ found that claimant had the severe impairments of “degenerative disc disease; obesity; kidney disease; diabetes; and high blood pressure.” (Id.).

         At Step Three, the ALJ found that none of claimant's impairments equaled a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the relevant regulations. (AR 130).

         At Step Four, the ALJ found claimant had residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work, with following ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.