United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
LYNN E. ROLLIE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
Williams, United States District Judge
Lynn E. Rollie (“claimant”) seeks judicial review
of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(the “Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34
(the “Act”). Claimant contends that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
determining that claimant was not disabled and that the ALJ
was not appointed in a constitutional manner. For the
following reasons, the Court affirms the Commissioner’s
Court adopts the facts as set forth in the parties’
Joint Statement of Facts and therefore will only summarize
the pertinent facts here. (Doc. 11). At the time of the
hearing before the ALJ, claimant was forty-seven years old.
(AR 25). Claimant has a high school education,
completed one year of college, and is able to communicate in
English. (AR 23, 25).
September 17, 2015, claimant filed an application for
disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging an
onset date of July 23, 2015. (AR 15). The Social Security
Administration denied claimant’s applications initially
and on reconsideration. (Id.). Claimant filed a
written request for a hearing. (Id.). On December 6,
2017, ALJ Robert A. Kelley held a hearing on claimant’s
application. (Id.). On March 9, 2018, the ALJ denied
claimant’s application for benefits. (AR 15-26). On
October 4, 2018, the Appeals Council denied claimant’s
request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-6).
December 5, 2018, claimant filed her complaint in this Court.
(Doc. 1). On July 3, 2019, claimant filed her brief. (Doc.
12). On July 26, 2019, the Commissioner filed his brief.
(Doc. 13). On August 12, 2019, claimant filed a reply brief.
(Doc. 14). On August 13, 2019, the Court deemed this case
fully submitted and ready for decision and referred this case
to a United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and
Recommendation. (Doc. 15). On September 10, 2019, the Court
unreferred the case.
DISABILITY 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
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 or profit.
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. 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 before his application
that was substantial gainful activity and lasted long enough
for the claimant to learn how to do it. Id., at
§ 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).
THE ALJ’S FINDINGS
made the following findings at each step:
One, the ALJ found that claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since July 23, 2015. (AR 18).
Two, the ALJ found that claimant had the severe impairments
of “fibromyalgia; history of cervical fusion surgery;
disorder of muscle, ligament and fascia; total right knee
replacement; [and] depression.” (Id.).
Although the ALJ noted claimant had other impairments,
including carpal tunnel syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis,
the ALJ found that they did not have more than a minimum
effect on claimant’s ability to perform basic work
functions and thus did not find them severe. (Id.).
Three, the ALJ found that claimant did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a
presumptively disabling impairment listed in the relevant
regulations. (AR 18-19).
Four, the ALJ found claimant had:
the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except can stand/walk for up to
6 hours in an 8-hour workday; can sit for up to 6 hours in an
8-hour workday; never crawl or climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or
climb ramps/stairs; only occasionally overhead reaching with
the left upper extremity; limited to unskilled work in that
the individual is able to understand, remember and carry out
only routine, repetitive tasks; and, able to maintain focus,
attention and concentration for two hours at a time, that is,
during the standard two-hour work intervals between normal
breaks throughout the workday.
(AR 19). Also at Step Four, the ALJ found that claimant could
not perform any past relevant work. (AR 25).
Five, the ALJ found that given claimant’s age,
education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the ...