United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION
Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Kristy Mathena (“claimant”), seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her
application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34 (Act).
Claimant contends that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in determining that claimant was
not disabled. For the reasons that follow, the ALJ's
decision is hereby reversed and remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this Order.
Court adopts the facts as set forth in the parties' Joint
Stipulation of Facts (Doc. 18) and, therefore, will summarize
only the pertinent facts. Claimant was born in 1978, was 32
years old when she allegedly became disabled, and was 37 at
the time of the ALJ's decision. (AR 34,
Claimant has a high school diploma and has past work as a
meat wrapper, shelving stocker, poultry boner, fast food
worker, and data entry clerk. (AR 34, 55, 101, 711). The ALJ
found that claimant's past relevant work was unskilled
and that transferability of job skills was, therefore, not an
issue. (AR 34).
August 3, 2012, claimant applied for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income alleging a
disability onset date of October 1, 2010. (AR 20). In 2013,
the Commissioner denied claimant's application initially
and on reconsideration. (AR 239, 249). On January 28, 2015,
ALJ Tela Gatewood held a hearing at which defendant and a
vocational expert testified. (AR 50). On November 23, 2015,
ALJ Timothy G. Stueve held a supplemental hearing at which
defendant and a vocational expert testified. (AR 20, 83). On
January 22, 2016, ALJ Stueve found claimant was not disabled.
(AR 20-36). Claimant filed a request for review by the
Appeals Council, submitting additional evidence. (AR 2, 6,
1463-78). On March 10, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
claimant's request for review. (AR 1-6).
16, 2017, claimant filed her complaint in this Court. (Doc.
4). By March 20, 2018, the parties had submitted their briefs
and the Court deemed this case fully submitted and ready for
decision. (Doc. 28). Claimant and the Commissioner both
consented to proceedings before a United States Magistrate
Judge, including final disposition of the case, and the
Honorable Linda R. Reade, United States District Judge,
reassigned this case to the Honorable Kelly Mahoney. (Doc.
16). On May 7, 2018, this case was reassigned to the
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
his 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 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.
“Gainful” activity is work done for pay or
profit, even if the claimant did not ultimately receive pay
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. §
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. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987). 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. Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §
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 his application that was substantial gainful
activity and lasted long enough for the claimant to learn how
to do it. § 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) (citations and internal quotation marks
omitted). The RFC is based on all relevant medical and other
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. The Commissioner must show
not only that the claimant's RFC will allow him 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 developing the claimant's medical
history before making a determination about the existence of
a disability. The burden of persuasion to prove disability
remains on the claimant. Stormo v. Barnhart, 377
F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).
made the following findings at each step of the analysis:
One, the ALJ found that claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2010, the
alleged onset date of her disability. (AR 22).
Two, the ALJ found that claimant had the severe impairments
of “mild osteoarthritis of ankles and feet bilaterally;
pes planus and subluxation of toes 2-4 bilaterally;
fibromyalgia; cervical degenerative disc disease with slight
disc herniation; early patellofemoral chrondromalacia;
obesity; depression; personality disorder;
anxiety/posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); borderline
intellectual functioning; and substance addiction
disorder.” (AR 23).
Three, the ALJ found that none of claimant's impairments
met or equaled a presumptively disabling impairment listed in
the relevant regulations. (Id.).
Four, the ALJ found claimant had the residual functional
capacity to perform light work ...