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Baldwin v. Berryhill

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

September 26, 2017

MARK BALDWIN, 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 Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the application of Mark Baldwin (“Plaintiff”) for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et. seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the Complaint (Doc. 20) and 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 Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 9).

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed his application for DIB on May 9, 2013, alleging an onset date of March 9, 2012. (Tr. 227-33). Plaintiff was initially denied on August 19, 2013, and he filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on August 30, 2013. (Tr. 169-75). The ALJ conducted a hearing on April 8, 2014. (Tr. 123-53). After the hearing, by decision dated November 20, 2014, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 20-37). On February 22, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6). As such, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. DECISION OF THE ALJ

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff meets the insured requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017. (Tr. 25). The ALJ also found that, although Plaintiff alleged an onset date of March 2012, Plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity until October 2012. (Id.). However, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity for a period of twelve months thereafter. (Id.). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the severe impairments of bi-polar I disorder and personality disorder, but that no impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 26).

         After considering the entire record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations. (Tr. 27). Plaintiff is limited to unskilled work involving no more than occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers, or the public; no more than occasional changes in the work environment; and no more than occasional use of his own independent judgment. (Id.). Because of Plaintiff's limitations, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. 33). However, the ALJ found Plaintiff is able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy including sorter, laundry worker, and hand packager. (Id.). Therefore, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from March 28, 2012 through November 20, 2014. (Tr. 34). Plaintiff appeals, arguing substantial evidence does not 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, 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 ...


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