United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Anthony Stroman (“claimant”) seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”) denying his
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”) erred in determining that he was not
disabled. For the following reasons, I respectfully recommend
that the District Court remand the
Commissioner's decision for further proceedings
consistent with this Report and Recommendation.
the facts as set forth in the parties' Joint Statement of
Facts and therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here.
(Doc. 15). Claimant previously filed at least two
applications for disability benefits, the most recent of
which was denied on December 20, 2011. (AR
50-63). Claimant then filed the instant
application for disability insurance benefits, alleging a
disability onset date of December 21, 2012. (AR 100).
Claimant's last date insured was September 30, 2014.
was born in 1979, making him thirty-five years old on the
date he was last insured, and thirty-three years old on the
alleged disability onset date. (AR 106). Claimant attended
school through eighth grade, dropped out during ninth grade,
and never obtained a general equivalency diploma. (Doc. 15,
at 2). Claimant previously worked as a van driver, which the
ALJ determined to be medium labor. (AR 106). Claimant's
injuries stemmed from an all-terrain vehicle accident that
occurred in approximately 2002 and caused claimant to suffer
an L1 burst fracture with spinal cord injury. (AR 105).
Claimant underwent L1 vertebrectomy and T12 through L2 graft
fusion with placement of plate. (Id.). In addition
to claimant's back problems, claimant alleges bowel
problems “that sometimes require him to be in the
bathroom for 1 to 2 hours, ” and that cause claimant to
suffer from incontinence. (Id.).
Social Security Administration denied the claim initially and
on reconsideration. (AR 68-96). ALJ David G. Buell held a
hearing on the matter and issued a decision denying the claim
on August 22, 2016. (AR 97-108). On July 30, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied review. (AR 1-3). The ALJ's
decision therefore became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
timely filed the instant complaint in this Court. (Doc. 4).
Claimant timely filed his opening brief on January 25, 2018,
(Doc. 16), defendant timely filed her brief on February 25,
2018, (Doc. 17), and claimant timely filed his reply brief on
March 7, 2018. (Doc. 19). On March 7, 2018, the Court deemed
the case fully submitted and ready for a decision. That same
day, the Honorable Linda R. Reade, United States District
Judge, referred the case to me for a Report and
DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS AND THE BURDEN OF
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, “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 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 .
. . [his] 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).
THE ALJ'S FINDINGS
made the following findings at each step with regard to
claimant's disability status:
One, the ALJ found that claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from his alleged onset date
through his date last insured. (AR 102).
Two, the ALJ found that claimant suffered from the severe
impairments of “[a]nxiety disorder; and degenerative
disk [sic] disease of the lumbar spine, status post
fusion.” (Id.). The ALJ further noted that
“[t]he record includes evidence of carpal tunnel
syndrome and bowel/bladder problems, but these occurred after
the claimant's date last insured.” (Id.).
Three, the ALJ found that none of claimant's impairments
met or equaled a presumptively disabling impairment listed in
the regulations. (Id.).
Four, the ALJ determined that claimant had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light ...