United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
LISA M. DEAN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
Lisa M. Dean (“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. 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 Commissioner's decision.
the facts set forth in the parties' Joint Statement of
Facts and therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here.
(Doc. 16). Claimant was born in 1963, making her forty-eight
years old when she allegedly became disabled and fifty years
old on the date last insured. (AR 11, 19). Claimant earned a
general equivalency diploma (GED) and completed one year of
college. (AR 62). Her past relevant work includes convenience
store assistance manager and cashier II. (AR 19).
January 30, 2012, claimant filed an application for
disability insurance benefits. (AR 11; Doc. 16, at 2). She
alleged a disability onset date of December 29, 2011.
(Id.). The Social Security Administration denied the
claim initially and on reconsideration. (AR 168-71, 178-81).
The ALJ, Jo Ann L. Draper, heard claimant's claim on
December 20, 2013 (AR 58-85), and denied claimant's claim
on February 12, 2014. (AR 148-56). The Appeals Council
granted claimant's request for review and remanded the
case on May 30, 2015, with instructions for the ALJ to
“[d]etermine the claimant's date last insured and
evaluate the issue of disability through that date.”
November 19, 2015, the ALJ held another hearing on the
matter. (AR 30-57). Claimant offered testimony and was
represented by counsel. (Id.). Testimony was also
heard from Carma A. Mitchell, a vocational expert. (AR
51-56). On December 1, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision
denying the claim. (AR 11-21). In response to the Appeals
Council's prior remand, the ALJ, in her December 2015
decision, determined claimant's last date insured was
December 31, 2013, instead of the ALJ's prior
determination of December 31, 2012. (AR 14, 150). On April
21, 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.
26, 2017, claimant timely filed the instant complaint in this
Court. (Doc. 3). By February 5, 2018, the parties had filed
their briefs. (Docs. 16-18). On February 21, 2018, the Court
deemed the case fully submitted and ready for decision. The
Honorable Leonard T. Strand, Chief United States District
Court Judge, referred this case to me for a Report and
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