United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
TERESA C. GERLEMAN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
claimant, Teresa C. Gerleman (claimant), seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (the Commissioner) denying her application for
disability benefits and supplemental security income under
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 201-34, 1601-37. (Act). Claimant contends that
the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in determining that
she was not disabled.
reasons that follow, I recommend that the District Court
vacate the Commissioner's decision and
remand with instructions to more fully
develop the record.
the facts as set forth in the parties' Joint Statement of
Facts and therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here.
(Doc. 11). Claimant was born in July 1982, and was therefore
thirty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's decision.
(AR 30).Claimant has a high school education and
some college education; however, she dropped out of college
prior to obtaining a degree. (Doc. 11, at 9). The ALJ
concluded that claimant is unable to perform past relevant
work. (AR 28).
September 18, 2012, claimant protectively filed an
application for disability benefits and supplemental security
income alleging a disability onset date of June 23, 2012. (AR
10). Claimant had previously filed two applications for
benefits under the Social Security Act, both of which were
denied, the most recent having been denied on June 27, 2012.
As the only denial currently on appeal is the denial of the
claim alleging a June 23, 2012 onset date, the remaining
claims are of no consequence in my analysis and need not be
considered here. The ALJ found that claimant was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act but did suffer
from the following severe impairments: various anxiety
disorders; depression; Cluster B traits; history of
polysubstance abuse and dependence; mild degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine; and fibromyalgia. (AR 13,
Social Security Administration denied claimant's
disability application initially and on reconsideration. (AR
10). On October 7, 2015, ALJ Julie K. Bruntz found claimant
was not disabled. (AR 30). Claimant requested timely review
of the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council denied
review on October 26, 2016. (AR 1-4). The ALJ's decision,
thus, became the final decision of the Commissioner. 20
C.F.R. § 404.981.
December 22, 2016, claimant filed a complaint in this Court.
(Doc. 3). Between June and July 2017, the parties briefed the
issues. (Docs. 14-16). On July 26, 2017, the Court deemed
this case fully submitted and ready for decision. On the same
day, the Honorable Linda R. Reade, United States District
Court Judge, referred this case to the undersigned, United
States Magistrate Judge C.J. Williams, for a Report and
DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS AND BURDEN OF PROOF
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 fifteen years
prior to 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 ...