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Murphy v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

August 1, 2019

JACK A. MURPHY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          C. J. WILLIAMS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Claimant Jack A. Murphy (“claimant”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34 (the “Act”), and for supplemental security income under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83f of the Act. Claimant contends that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in determining that claimant was not disabled. For the following reasons, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 4, 2015, claimant filed an application for disability and disability benefits and an application for supplemental security income, alleging an onset date of October 12, 2012. (Doc. 11, at 2; AR 13).[1] On August 26, 2015, the Social Security Administration denied claimant's application and on December 3, 2015, affirmed the denial on reconsideration. (AR 141-44, 149-57). On December 17, 2015, claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. (AR 13). On August 7, 2017, ALJ Robert Kelly held a hearing on claimant's application. (Id.). On October 19, 2017, the ALJ denied claimant's application. (AR 13-22). On April 20, 2018, the Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision. (AR 1-6).

         On June 21, 2018, claimant filed his complaint in this Court. (Doc. 4). Between December 2018 and February 2019, the parties filed briefs on the merits of the case. (Docs. 12-14). On February 11, 2019, the Court deemed this case fully submitted and ready for decision. (Doc. 15). On the same day, the Court referred the case to a United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation. On July 10, 2019, the Court un-referred the case.

         II. DISABILITY DETERMINATIONS AND BURDEN OF PROOF

         A 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 the national economy 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 find the claimant not disabled.

         To 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. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4)(i). “Substantial” work activity involves significant physical or mental activities. Id. § 416.972(a). “Gainful” activity is work done for pay or profit, even if the claimant did not ultimately receive pay or profit. Id. § 416.972(b).

         Second, 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. Id. 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 (citations omitted).

         The 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. §§ 404.1522, 416.922.

         Third, 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).

         Fourth, 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 not disabled. Id. Past relevant work is any work the claimant performed within the fifteen years before the application that was substantial gainful activity and lasted long enough for the claimant to learn how to do it. Id. § 416.960(b)(1). “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. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(3) (“We will assess your residual functional capacity based on all of the relevant medical and other evidence.”). The claimant is responsible for providing the evidence the Commissioner will use to determine his RFC, but the Commissioner is responsible for developing the record. Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 592 (8th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). If a claimant retains enough RFC to perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not disabled. Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 591.

         Fifth, 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. Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). 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; see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can make the adjustment, then the Commissioner will find the claimant not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). At Step Five, the Commissioner has the responsibility of developing the claimant's medical history before determining the existence of a disability. Although the ALJ has the duty to develop the factual record, the burden of persuasion to prove disability and demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant. Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 592.

         III. THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         The ALJ made the following findings at each step:

         At Step One, the ALJ found that claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful ...


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