United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
A. Roberts, United States Magistrate Judge.
Candi Olson (“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. Sections 401-34. Claimant contends
that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) 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 (Doc. 13) and only summarize the pertinent facts here.
This is an appeal from a denial of disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Claimant was born on December
28, 1970. (AR at 162.) Claimant has a high school
education. (Id. at 199.) Claimant allegedly became
disabled due to fibromyalgia, chronic back and joint pain,
arthritis, degenerative disc disease, depression, and
anxiety. (Id. at 198.) The alleged onset of
disability date was July 1, 2012 (Id. at 162).
Claimant filed an application for Social Security disability
on February 11, 2015. (Id.) Claimant was initially
denied benefits on June 9, 2015. (Id. at 54-67.)
Claimant filed for reconsideration on June 2, 2015 and the
reconsideration was denied on July 30, 2015. (Id. at
95, 68-83.) Claimant filed a Request for Hearing on September
3, 2015. (Id. at 105-06.) On May 16, 2017, a video
hearing was held with Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Jan E. Dutton and Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Stephen Schill in Omaha, Nebraska and
Claimant and her then-counsel Sarah Eyberg in Sioux City,
Iowa. (Id. at 31-52.) Claimant and the VE both
testified. (Id. at 37-51.)
entered an unfavorable decision on August 22, 2017.
(Id. at 7-25.) On September 9, 2017, Claimant filed
a Request for the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's
decision. (Id. at 161.) The Appeals Council found
there was no basis to review the ALJ's decision on June
4, 2018. (Id. at 1-3.) Accordingly, the ALJ's
decision stands as the final administrative ruling in the
matter and became the final decision of the Commissioner.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
2, 2018, Claimant timely filed her complaint in this Court.
(Doc. 3.) All briefs were filed by January 10, 2019. On
January 11, 2019, the Honorable Leonard T. Strand, Chief
United States District Court Judge, referred the case to me
for a Report and Recommendation.
DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS AND THE BURDEN OF PROOF
disability is 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). A claimant has a disability when, due to
physical or mental impairments, the claimant
is not only unable to do [the claimant's] previous work
but cannot, considering [the claimant's] 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). A
claimant is not disabled if the claimant is able to do work
that exists in the national economy but is unemployed due to
an inability to find work, lack of options in the local area,
technological changes in a particular industry, economic
downturns, employer hiring practices, or other factors. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1566(c).
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. Dixon v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 602, 605
(8th Cir. 2003). At steps one through four, the claimant has
the burden to prove he or she is disabled; at step five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove there are jobs
available in the national economy. Moore v. Astrue,
572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009).
one, the ALJ will consider whether a claimant is engaged in
“substantial gainful activity.” Id. If
so, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i). “Substantial activity is significant
physical or mental work that is done on a full- or part-time
basis. Gainful activity is simply work that is done for
compensation.” Dukes v. Barnhart, 436 F.3d
923, 927 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Comstock v. Chater,
91 F.3d 1143, 1145 (8th Cir. 1996)); 20 C.F.R. §
claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, at
step two, the ALJ decides if the claimant's impairments
are severe. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the
impairments are not severe, then the claimant is not
disabled. Id. An impairment is not severe if it does
not significantly limit a claimant's “physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.”
Id. § 416.920(c). The 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
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987)
(quotation omitted) (numbers added; internal brackets
claimant has a severe impairment, at step three, the ALJ 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 impairments listed in the regulations (“the
listings”), then “the claimant is presumptively
disabled without regard to age, education, and work
experience.” Tate v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 1191,
1196 (8th Cir. 1999).
claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not meet or
equal an impairment in the listings, at step four, the ALJ
will assess the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and the demands of the claimant's
past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). RFC
is what the claimant can still do despite his or her
limitations. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798,
801 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545(a), 416.945(a)). RFC is based on all relevant
evidence and 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). “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. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.960(b)(1). If a claimant retains enough RFC to
perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not
disabled. Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
five, if the claimant's RFC 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. Id. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v),
416.960(c)(2). The ALJ must show not only that the
claimant's RFC will allow the claimant to do other work,
but also that other work exists in significant numbers in the
national economy. Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 591
The ALJ'S Findings
made the following findings at each step regarding
Claimant's disability status.
one, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2012, her alleged
onset date. (AR at 12.)
two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia,
obesity, and history of bilateral carpal tunnel release
surgeries. (Id.) The ALJ also found that Claimant
had the following nonsevere impairments: hypothyroidism,
anxiety, depression, and patellofemoral syndrome of the right
knee. (Id. at 13.)
three, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or equaled a
presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations.
(Id. at 14.) Specifically, the ALJ considered
listings 1.04 (disorders of the spine resulting in compromise
of a nerve root or the spinal cord) and, as a way to evaluate
carpel tunnel syndrome, 11.14 (peripheral neuropathies).
(Id. at 15.) The ALJ also opined that while there
are no listing criteria for obesity impairments, obesity may
have an adverse impact on other coexisting impairments.
(Id. at 14.) Thus, thee ALJ considered the effects
of Claimant's obesity when evaluating steps 2 through 5
of the 5 step process. (Id. at 15.) The ALJ also
noted that because fibromyalgia is not a listed impairment,
it must be determined whether it medically equals a listing
such as 14.09 for inflammatory arthritis or whether it
medically equals a listing in combination with at least one
other medically determinable impairment. (Id.) The
ALJ concluded that Claimant's fibromyalgia did not equal
a listing. (Id.)
four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the RFC to perform
sedentary work with the following restrictions:
[Claimant could] stand or walk two hours per eight-hour
workday; sit six hours per eight-hour workday; never climb
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and
stairs; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, or crouch; never
crawl on hands and knees; can use her hands for frequent but
not constant handling, fingering, and should avoid
concentrated exposure to cold, vibrating equipment, and fumes
(although she is a cigarette smoker).
(Id.) The ALJ also found that Claimant was not
capable of performing past relevant work as a pharmacy
technician, cashier, or nurse's aide. (Id. at
five, the ALJ found in the alternative that there were other
jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that Claimant could also perform, including
addresser, document preparer, and polisher of eye frames.
(Id. at 24.) Therefore, the ALJ concluded that
Claimant was not disabled. (Id. at 25.)
The Substantial ...