United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Lynne Barnett (“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, sections 201-34 (now codified at 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-34). She contends that the Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) who heard her claim erred in determining that
she was not disabled. For the reasons that follow, I
recommend that the District Court affirm the
the facts set forth in the parties' Joint Statement of
Facts and therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here.
(Doc. 10). Claimant was born in 1962, making her fifty years
old when she allegedly became disabled and fifty-three years
old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (AR
178). Claimant achieved a college education and
has past relevant work as a nurse, school nurse, and nurse
supervisor. (AR 33, 141). Claimant last met insured status on
March 31, 2015. (AR 23).
April 1, 2014, claimant filed an application for disability
insurance benefits. (AR 21, 112). She alleged a disability
onset date of September 17, 2013, the day following the
denial of a previous claim for Title II benefits. (AR 92,
178). The Social Security Administration denied the instant
claim initially and on reconsideration. (AR 144, 150). On
January 11, 2016, Administrative Law Judge David W. Thompson
held a hearing on the matter. (AR 41-91). Claimant offered
testimony and was represented by counsel. (Id.).
Testimony was also heard from Brian Paprocki, a vocational
expert. (AR 74-91). On February 5, 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision denying the claim. (AR 18-35). The Appeals Council
subsequently denied review. (AR 1-4). The ALJ's decision
therefore became the final decision of the Commissioner.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
April 5, 2017, claimant timely filed the instant complaint in
this Court. On November 15, 2017, the Court deemed the case
fully submitted and ready for decision. The Honorable Leonard
T. Strand, Chief United States District Judge, referred this
case to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation.
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 Social Security 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. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i).
“Substantial” work activity involves physical or
mental activities. (Id. § 404.1572).
“Gainful” activity is work done for pay or
profit, even if the claimant did not ultimately receive pay
or profit. (Id.).
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. Id.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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 do 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);
see also 20 C.F.R. 404.1521 (2015).
if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the
Commissioner will determine the medical severity of the
impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). 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. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
claimant can still do his past relevant work, then he is
considered not disabled. (Id.). 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. (Id. § 416.960(b)). “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) (internal
quotation marks omitted). The RFC is based on all relevant
evidence. The claimant is responsible for providing the
evidence the Commissioner will use to determine the RFC.
Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th
Cir. 2004). 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. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.960(c)(2). The Commissioner must show
not only that the claimant's RFC will allow him to make
the adjustment to other work, but also that other work exists
in significant numbers in the national economy.
Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 591. 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 fairly and fully developing the record
before making a determination about the existence of a
disability. Snead v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 834, 838
(8th Cir. 2004). The burden of persuasion to prove disability
remains on the claimant. Stormo v. Barnhart, 377
F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
made the following findings at each step with regard to
claimant's disability status through March 31, 2015, her
date last insured:
One, the ALJ found that claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity during the period from her