Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cook v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

MARK JASON COOK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NOELLE C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is an action under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Mark Jason Cook's (“Plaintiff”) application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., and 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 his Complaint. (Doc. 18). Defendant has filed a Brief in Support of the Answer. (Doc. 25). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 10).

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 20, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and for SSI. (Tr. 156, 162). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) initially denied Plaintiff's claim on October 20, 2012.

         (Tr. 96-100). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on December 31, 2012. (Tr. 101-103). Following a hearing on March 20, 2014 (Tr. 26), the ALJ issued a written decision on April 29, 2014, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 9-25). Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 7-8). On August 20, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-3). Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         II. DECISION OF THE ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2016, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 6, 2012, the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 14). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: schizoaffective disorder, panic disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), and mild degenerative disc disease, but that no impairment or combination of those impairments met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14-15).

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the following limitations. He may occasionally lift ten pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, sit for up to six hours, and stand or walk for approximately six hours in an eight hour day with normal breaks. (Tr. 16). Plaintiff can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, but must never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Id.). Plaintiff must also avoid exposure to pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gases as well as workplace hazards such as unprotected moving mechanical parts and unprotected heights. (Id.). Plaintiff is able to understand, carry out, and remember simple, routine, and repetitive tasks involving only simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, work place changes. (Id.). Plaintiff is to have no interaction with the public, but can be around coworkers with only brief, incidental interaction and no tandem tasks. (Id.). Plaintiff's work must be isolated, defined as having a supervisor check on work only occasionally. (Id.).

         The ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work, but that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform, including a folding machine operator, laundry sorter, and production assembler. (Tr. 20-21). Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of “not disabled” was appropriate. (Tr. 21). Plaintiff appeals, arguing a lack of substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 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. 1996)).

         Third, 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). 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. Id.

         Fourth, 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 RFC. 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.”). 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).

         Fifth, 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. Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3. If the claimant meets these standards, the ALJ will find the claimant to be disabled. “The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove disability, however, always remains with the claimant.” Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000). 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.”). 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. 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).

         It is not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or review the factual record de novo. Cox, 495 F.3d at 617. 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. 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. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). 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 reviewing court would have decided differently. Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at 1022.

         To determine whether the Commissioner's final decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court is required to review the administrative record as a whole and to consider:

(1) Findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.