United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division
VANESSA K. JENNINGS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
WILLIAMS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Vanessa K. Jennings (“claimant”), seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her
applications for disability and disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-34, as well as for supplemental security
income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1382-83f. Claimant contends that the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who heard her claims erred in
determining that claimant was not disabled. For the following
reasons, I recommend that the District Court reverse
and remand the ALJ's decision to determine
whether work exists in significant numbers in the national
economy that claimant can perform.
the parties' Joint Statement of Facts (Doc. 14) and
therefore only summarize the pertinent facts here. Claimant
was born in June 1967, and was forty-four years old on the
alleged onset date of disability, and fifty years old on the
date of the ALJ's decision. (AR 207, 209). Claimant has at
least a high school education (AR 207) and previously worked as
a cashier II, sales attendant, and tractor-trailer truck
driver. (Doc. 14, at 5).
November 23, 2009, claimant filed applications for benefits
under the Social Security Act; those applications were denied
administratively and, ultimately, by a federal district
court. (AR 192). On July 18, 2013, claimant filed
applications for disability and disability insurance
benefits, as well as for supplemental security income,
alleging an alleged onset date of disability of March 1,
2012, for each application. (Id.). Claimant's
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration,
and claimant thereafter requested a hearing before an ALJ.
(Id.). ALJ Eric S. Basse held an administrative
hearing on April 28, 2016, at which both claimant and a
vocational expert testified. (AR 219-20). The ALJ issued a
decision on June 1, 2016, in which he denied claimant's
applications for benefits. (AR 192-209). On May 30, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied review. (AR 1-4). The ALJ's
decision therefore became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
19, 2017, claimant timely filed the instant complaint in this
Court. (Doc. 3). On February 13, 2018, the Court deemed this
case fully submitted and ready for decision. On June 5, 2018,
the Honorable Leonard T. Strand, Chief United States District
Judge, referred this 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, “[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).
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 since March 1, 2012, the alleged
onset date of disability. (AR 194).
Two, the ALJ found that claimant suffered from the following
severe impairments: “obesity, obstructive sleep apnea,
epilepsy, major depressive disorder, general anxiety
disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, asthma, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, and hearing loss.” (AR
194). The ALJ also discussed claimant's other alleged
impairments, and found that those impairments did not meet
the definition of “severe” impairments under the
Social Security Administration regulations. (AR 195-96).
Three, the ALJ found that none of claimant's impairments
met or equaled a presumptively disabling impairment listed in
the regulations. (AR 196-98).
Four, the ALJ found that claimant had the RFC to perform
sedentary work with the following limitations:
She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. She can
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The
claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds. She must
avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants. The
claimant must avoid exposure to hazards such as machinery,
heights, and open bodies of water. She cannot perform
commercial driving. The claimant cannot be exposed to more
than moderate noise levels and cannot perform work that
requires communication by telephone. The claimant is limited
to simple, routine tasks with simple instructions. She can
occasionally interact with the public. She cannot work at
production rate pace.
(AR 198-99). Also at Step Four, the ALJ found that claimant
was unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 207).
Five, the ALJ found that despite claimant's RFC, there
were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that claimant could still perform, including document
preparer and addresser. (AR 208). Therefore, the ALJ
concluded that claimant was not disabled. (AR 208-09).
THE SUBSTANTIAL ...