United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
GENNA T. PIERSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Genna T. Pierson (“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. §§ 401-434.
Claimant contends that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who
heard her claim erred in determining that she was not
reasons that follow, I recommend that the District Court
affirm the Commissioner's decision.
the facts set forth in the parties' Joint Statement of
Facts and therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here.
(Doc. 13). Claimant was born in January 1972, making her
forty-two years old when she allegedly became disabled and
forty-four years old at the time of the ALJ's decision.
(AR 30). Claimant did not graduate from high
school, but she earned a general equivalency diploma (GED).
(AR 41). Claimant previously worked as a transporter at a
hospital for eighteen years. (AR 49).
March 28, 2014, claimant protectively filed an application
for disability insurance benefits. (AR 20; Doc. 13, at 2).
She alleged a disability onset date of March 5, 2014.
(Id.). The Social Security Administration denied the
claim initially and on reconsideration. (AR 77-100). On
February 5, 2016, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Julie K. Bruntz held a hearing on the
matter. (AR 38-75). Claimant offered testimony and was
represented by counsel. (Id.). Testimony was also
heard from Carma Mitchell, a vocational expert. (AR 70-75).
On March 16, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying the
claim. (AR 20-31). On April 27, 2017, the Appeals Council
denied review. (AR 1-5). The ALJ's decision therefore
became the final decision of the Commissioner. See
20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
27, 2017, claimant timely filed the instant complaint in this
Court. (Doc. 3). By January 4, 2018, the parties had filed
their briefs. (Docs. 14-15). On February 5, 2018, the Court
deemed the case fully submitted and ready for decision. The
Honorable Linda R. Reade, United States District Court Judge,
referred this case to me 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
her physical or mental impairments, “[she] is not only
unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering
[her] 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 her past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the
claimant can still do her past relevant work, then she is
considered not disabled. (Id.). Past relevant work
is any work the claimant performed within the fifteen years
prior to her 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 her 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).