United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the
application of Christopher Watts (Plaintiff) for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social
Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq., and for Supplemental Security
Income (SSI), under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Plaintiff has filed
a brief in support of the Complaint (Doc. 15), Defendant has
filed a brief in support of the Answer (Doc. 16), Plaintiff
has filed a Reply brief (Doc. 17), and Defendant has filed a
sur-reply (Doc. 20). The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 10).
September 30, 2012, Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB
and SSI. (Tr. 73-74, 117-31). Plaintiff’s applications
were denied, and he requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Tr. 57-74, 83-84). After a
hearing, by decision dated July 22, 2014, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 13-23). On July 14, 2015, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review.
(Tr. 1-4). As such, the ALJ’s decision stands as the
final decision of the Commissioner.
the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a
five-step process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529.
“‘If a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any
step in the evaluation of disability, the process ends and
the claimant is determined to be not disabled.’”
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584,
590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, the
claimant first cannot be engaged in “substantial
gainful activity” to qualify for disability benefits.
20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the
claimant must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act
defines “severe impairment” as “any
impairment or combination of impairments which significantly
limits [claimant’s] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities.” Id. “The
sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two
only when the claimant’s impairment or combination of
impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on [his
or] her ability to work.” Page v. Astrue, 484
F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v.
Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing
Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d);
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If the claimant has one of, or the
medical equivalent of, these impairments, then the claimant
is per se disabled without consideration of the
claimant’s age, education, or work history. See
the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her Residual Functional
Capacity (RFC). See Steed v. Astrue, 524 F.3d 872,
874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008) (“Through step four of this
analysis, the claimant has the burden of showing that she is
disabled.”); Eichelberger, 390 F.3d at 590-91;
Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 737 (8th Cir.
2004); Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th
Cir. 2000). The ALJ will review a claimant’s RFC and
the physical and mental demands of the work the claimant has
done in the past. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing
any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g),
404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis,
the Commissioner has the burden of production to show
evidence of other jobs in the national economy that can be
performed by a person with the claimant’s RFC. See
Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3; Young, 221 F.3d at
1069 n.5. If the claimant meets these standards, the ALJ will
find the claimant to be disabled. “The ultimate burden
of persuasion to prove disability, however, remains with the
claimant.” Id. See also Harris v. Barnhart,
356 F.3d 926, 931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg.
51153, 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003)); Stormo v. Barnhart,
377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The burden of
persuasion to prove disability and to demonstrate RFC remains
on the claimant, even when the burden of production shifts to
the Commissioner at step five.”); Charles v.
Barnhart, 375 F.3d 777, 782 n.5 (8th Cir. 2004)
(“[T]he burden of production shifts to the Commissioner
at step five to submit evidence of other work in the national
economy that [the claimant] could perform, given her
RFC.”). Even if a court finds that there is a
preponderance of the evidence against the ALJ’s
decision, the decision must be affirmed if it is supported by
substantial evidence. See Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d
65, 68 (8th Cir. 1984). “Substantial evidence is less
than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind
would find it adequate to support the Commissioner’s
conclusion.” Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d
1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002). See also Cox v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). In Bland v.
Bowen, 861 F.2d 533, 535 (8th Cir. 1988), the Eighth
Circuit Court of Appeals held:
The concept of substantial evidence is something less than
the weight of the evidence and it allows for the possibility
of drawing two inconsistent conclusions, thus it embodies a
zone of choice within which the Secretary may decide to grant
or deny benefits without being subject to reversal on appeal.
See also Lacroix v. Barnhart, 465 F.3d 881, 885 (8th
Cir. 2006) (“[W]e may not reverse merely because
substantial evidence exists for the opposite
decision.”) (quoting Johnson v. Chater, 87
F.3d 1015, 1017 (8th Cir. 1996)); Hartfield v.
Barnhart, 384 F.3d 986, 988 (8th Cir. 2004)
(“[R]eview of the Commissioner’s final decision
not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo. See Cox, 495 F.3d
at 617; Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801
(8th Cir. 2005); McClees v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 301, 302
(8th Cir. 1993); Murphy v. Sullivan, 953 F.2d 383,
384 (8th Cir. 1992). Instead, the district court must simply
determine whether the quantity and quality of evidence is
enough so that a reasonable mind might find it adequate to
support the ALJ’s conclusion. See Davis v.
Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing
McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir.
2000)). Weighing the evidence is a function of the ALJ, who
is the fact-finder. See Benskin v. Bowen, 830 F.2d
878, 882 (8th Cir. 1987). See also Onstead v.
Sullivan, 962 F.2d 803, 804 (8th Cir. 1992) (holding
that an ALJ’s decision is conclusive upon a reviewing
court if it is supported by “substantial
evidence”). Thus, an administrative decision which is
supported by substantial evidence is not subject to reversal
merely because substantial evidence may also support an
opposite conclusion or because the ...