United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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).
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.
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.
DECISION OF 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).
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
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.
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)).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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