United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
DARREN L. OWENS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Darren L. Owens (“claimant”), seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”) denying his
applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34 and
supplemental security income under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-83f. Claimant contends that the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who heard his claims erred in
determining that claimant was not disabled.
reasons that follow, I recommend that the District Court
reverse and remand this case for further
proceedings and findings regarding whether claimant's
residual functional capacity should include a limitation
regarding a low-stress work environment and, if so, whether
there remain jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that claimant could perform.
the facts set forth in the parties' Joint Statement of
Facts and therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here.
(Doc. 13). Claimant was forty-three years old when he
allegedly became disabled. (AR 24). He was fifty years old at
the time of both the first and second hearings on January 28,
2015, and December 9, 2015, respectively, and fifty-one years
old at the time of the decision. (AR 9, 26). Claimant
graduated from high school. (AR 24). Claimant previously
worked in assembly for a manufacturing company from 1989 to
2005. (AR 469).
23, 2013, claimant filed an application for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (AR 9).
He alleged a disability onset date of August 1, 2008, but
later amended that date to April 23, 2010. (Id.).
Claimant asserted he was disabled due to asthma, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bipolar disorder,
morbid obesity, depression, sleep apnea, and diabetes. (AR
565). The Social Security Administration denied the claim
initially and on reconsideration. (AR 9, 258-67, 274-82). On
January 28, 2015, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Tela L. Gatewood held a hearing on the
matter. (AR 76-114). ALJ Robert J. Burbank was later assigned
to the case and he held a second hearing on December 9, 2015.
(AR 40-75). Claimant offered testimony and was represented by
counsel in both hearings. (AR 9). Roger Marquardt, a
vocational expert, also testified at the first hearing and
Marilyn Schmitt, another vocational expert, testified at the
second hearing. (AR 40, 76). On February 3, 2016, ALJ Burbank
issued a decision finding claimant was not disabled. (AR
9-26). On May 24, 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. §
19, 2017, claimant timely filed the instant complaint in this
Court. (Doc. 3). By February 13, 2018, the parties had filed
their briefs. (Docs. 14, 19, & 20). On February 14, 2018,
the Court deemed the case fully submitted and ready for
decision. (Doc. 21). On that same date, the Honorable Linda
R. Reade, United States District 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).