United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
ANDREA M. CROCKER, 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 Andrea M. Crocker (“Plaintiff”)
for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under
Title II of the Social Security Act (“the 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 filed a brief in support of the
Complaint (Doc. 14), Defendant filed a brief in support of
the Answer (Doc. 19), and Plaintiff filed a 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. 9).
filed her applications for DIB and SSI on March 8, 2011 (Tr.
263-272). Plaintiff was initially denied on September 19,
2011, and she filed a Request for Hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 111-12,
163-67). After a hearing, by decision dated March 25, 2013,
the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 121-42). The
Appeals Council granted review and remanded the case for a
new hearing (Tr. 143-46). After a new hearing on November 20,
2014, the ALJ issue another unfavorable decision on January
21, 2015 (Tr. 20-36). On April 27, 2016, the Appeals Council
issued a decision denying Plaintiff's request for review
(Tr. 1-6). As such, the ALJ's January 21, 2015 decision
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 1, 2011, the alleged onset
date (Tr. 23). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease with a herniated
nucleus pulposus,  irritable bowel syndrome,  obesity,
depression and general anxiety disorder 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. 23-24). After
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a sedentary work with the following limitations (Tr.
27). She can occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; can
never climb stairs, ramps, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
should avoid hazards such as unprotected heights and
dangerous machinery; would be limited to simple, routine,
repetitive tasks with simple work related decisions; and can
have only superficial interactions with the general public
and coworkers, meaning she should deal with things instead of
people (Id.). The ALJ found Plaintiff is unable to
perform any past relevant work, but that there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she
can perform, including final assembler, document preparer,
and grinding machine operator (Tr. 35-36). Thus, the ALJ
concluded that a finding of “not disabled” was
appropriate (Tr. 36). Plaintiff appeals, arguing a lack of
substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's
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, 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 ...