United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
E. LARSEN United States Magistrate Judge
Nyana Hardin seeks review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's
application for disability benefits under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff argues
that the ALJ erred in (1) finding plaintiff's limited
intellectual abilities and depression are not severe
impairments, (2) finding that plaintiff's mental
impairments do not meet or equal the requirements of listing
12.05(c) (mental retardation), and (3) failing to make a
function-by-function analysis of plaintiff's physical
residual functional capacity. I find that the substantial
evidence in the record as a whole does not support the
ALJ's finding that plaintiff is not disabled. Therefore,
plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be granted,
the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed, and this
case will be remanded for an award of benefits.
October 1, 2013, plaintiff applied for disability benefits
alleging that she had been disabled since January 1, 2011.
Plaintiff's application was denied on November 13, 2013.
On December 17, 2014, a hearing was held before an
Administrative Law Judge. On January 13, 2015, the ALJ found
that plaintiff was not under a “disability” as
defined in the Act. On March 22, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review. Therefore, the
decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the
STANDARD FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
205(g) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), provides for
judicial review of a “final decision” of the
Commissioner. The standard for judicial review by the federal
district court is whether the decision of the Commissioner
was supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971); Mittlestedt v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 847, 850-51
(8th Cir. 2000); Johnson v. Chater, 108 F.3d 178,
179 (8th Cir. 1997); Andler v. Chater, 100 F.3d
1389, 1392 (8th Cir. 1996). The determination of whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence requires review of the entire record, considering
the evidence in support of and in opposition to the
Commissioner's decision. Universal Camera Corp. v.
NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951); Thomas v.
Sullivan, 876 F.2d 666, 669 (8th Cir. 1989). “The
Court must also take into consideration the weight of the
evidence in the record and apply a balancing test to evidence
which is contradictory.” Wilcutts v. Apfel,
143 F.3d 1134, 1136 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing Steadman v.
Securities & Exchange Commission, 450 U.S. 91, 99
evidence means “more than a mere scintilla. It means
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. at 401; Jernigan v. Sullivan,
948 F.2d 1070, 1073 n. 5 (8th Cir. 1991). However, the
substantial evidence standard presupposes a zone of choice
within which the decision makers can go either way, without
interference by the courts. “[A]n administrative
decision is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.” Id.; Clarke v. Bowen, 843
F.2d 271, 272-73 (8th Cir. 1988).
BURDEN OF PROOF AND SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION
individual claiming disability benefits has the burden of
proving he is unable to return to past relevant work by
reason of a medically-determinable physical or mental
impairment which has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). If the plaintiff establishes that he is
unable to return to past relevant work because of the
disability, the burden of persuasion shifts to the
Commissioner to establish that there is some other type of
substantial gainful activity in the national economy that the
plaintiff can perform. Nevland v. Apfel, 204 F.3d
853, 857 (8th Cir. 2000); Brock v. Apfel, 118
F.Supp.2d 974 (W.D. Mo. 2000).
Social Security Administration has promulgated detailed
regulations setting out a sequential evaluation process to
determine whether a claimant is disabled. These regulations
are codified at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1501, et
seq. The five-step sequential evaluation process used by
the Commissioner is outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and
is summarized as follows:
1. Is the claimant performing substantial gainful activity?
Yes = not disabled.
No = go to next step.
2. Does the claimant have a severe impairment or a
combination of impairments which significantly limits his
ability to do basic work activities?
No = not disabled.
Yes = go to next step.
3. Does the impairment meet or equal a listed impairment in
Yes = disabled.
No = go to next step.
4. Does the impairment prevent the claimant from doing past
No = not disabled.
Yes = go to next step where burden shifts to Commissioner.
5. Does the impairment prevent the claimant from doing any
Yes = disabled. No = not disabled.
record consists of the testimony of plaintiff and documentary
evidence admitted at the hearing.
record contains the following administrative reports: