United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
TRACY O. MERCHANT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
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 Tracy O. Merchant (“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. 13), Defendant has filed a brief in
support of the Answer (Doc. 18), and Plaintiff has filed a
reply brief (Doc. 19). The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (Doc. 8).
filed his applications for DIB and SSI on January 13, 2011
(Tr. 256-68). Plaintiff was initially denied on March 29,
2011, and he filed a Request for Hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 11,
2011 (Tr. 128-39). After a hearing, by decision dated
November 30, 2012, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr.
101-20). On January 8, 2014, the Appeals Council granted
Plaintiff's request for review and remanded his case to
the ALJ (Tr. 121-25). A second hearing was held on March 27,
2014 and, by decision dated April 24, 2014, the ALJ again
found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 10-31, 32-56). On October
9, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review (Tr. 1-3). As such, the ALJ's April 24, 2014
decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30,
2013, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 1, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability
(Tr. 15). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments
of fracture of the left tibia, by history; history of
bilateral inguinal hernia repairs; depression; posttraumatic
stress disorder (PTSD); and questionable history of mild
impairment in intellectual functioning, but that no
impairment or combination of 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. 15-16).
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)
and 416.967(b) with the following limitations (Tr. 17). He
will only occasionally be able to climb stairs and ramps; he
will be unable to climb ropes, ladders, and scaffolding; he
will only occasionally be able stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; he will be limited to no repetitive use of foot
controls on the left side; he will need to avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold; and he will need to avoid
concentrated exposure to unprotected heights (Id.).
Plaintiff is able to understand, remember, and carry out at
least simple instructions and non-detailed tasks
(Id.). Plaintiff is able to respond appropriately to
supervisors and co-workers in a task oriented setting where
contact with others is casual and infrequent (Id.).
Plaintiff can perform work at normal pace without production
quotas (Id.). Plaintiff should not work in a setting
which includes constant/regular contact with the general
public (Id.). Plaintiff should not perform work
which includes more than infrequent handling of customer
complaints (Id.). Plaintiff should not perform work
which requires more than limited reading skills
(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 production worker (Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”) occupational code
739.684-094) and cleaner/laundry worker (DOT occupational
code 302.685-010) (Tr. 23-24). Thus, the ALJ concluded that a
finding of “not disabled” was appropriate (Tr.
24). 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