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Schmid v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 24, 2014

JENNIFER L. SCHMID, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH, Magistrate Judge.

The following opinion is intended to be the opinion of the court judicially reviewing the Commissioner's denial of an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., filed by Plaintiff, Jennifer L. Schmid. This court has jurisdiction because 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides for judicial review of a "final decision" of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and because the parties have consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge dispose of this case, including entry of final judgment. (Doc. 7). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jennifer L. Schmid filed for benefits under the Social Security Act on July 2010, claiming disability due to lower back disk fusion, bulging disk, spondylolisthesis, a heart condition, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 214-15, 247). Plaintiff originally alleged that she had been disabled since October 22, 2009, but she amended her alleged onset date to January 27, 2010. (Tr. 242, 247). Plaintiff's application was initially denied, and she filed a request for a hearing by an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 162-67, 171). On April 3, 2012, after a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 109-22). Plaintiff requested review by the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council and submitted additional evidence in support of her request. (Tr. 6-108). After considering the additional evidence, the Appeals Council denied her request on May 24, 2013. (Tr. 1-5). Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

II. STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY UNDER THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT

To be eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Sec. of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is "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); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The impairment must be "of such severity that [the claimant] 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).

To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing the five-step process). At Step One, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in "substantial gainful activity"; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment, which is "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities"; if the claimant does not have a severe impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds with the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Prior to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"), which is "the most a claimant can do despite [his or her] limitations." Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e). At Step Four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step Five, the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.

Through Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that, given the claimant's age, education, and work experience, there are a significant number of other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform. Id .; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064 (8th Cir. 2012).

III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014; has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 22, 2009; has the severe impairments of arthritis of the lumbar spine with residual effects of fusion surgery, obesity, and aortic stenosis; does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 1; has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(a); and is capable of performing her past relevant work as a data entry clerk, personal assistant, receptionist, and order puller. Based on these findings, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff has not been under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. (Tr. 112-118).

In appealing the Commissioner's decision, Plaintiff argues that (1) the Commissioner erred by failing to find that Plaintiff's depression and anxiety were severe impairments, particularly in light of new evidence submitted to the Appeals Council; and (2) the Commissioner failed to fully develop the record regarding Plaintiff's past relevant work.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for ...


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