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Brockman v. Berryhill

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

September 29, 2017

LARRY BROCKMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Larry Brockman's (“Brockman”) application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.

         I. Background

         Brockman applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits on August 14, 2013, alleging disability as of June 30, 2013, due to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. After his application was denied at the initial administrative level, he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Following a hearing on December 4, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision on February 17, 2015, denying his application. Brockman's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).

         II. Facts

         The Court adopts Brockman's Statement of Facts (Doc. No. 19-1).[2] The Court's review of the record shows that the adopted facts are accurate and complete. Specific facts will be discussed as part of the analysis.

         III. Standards

         The court's role on judicial review is to determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Johnson v. Astrue, 628 F.3d 991, 992 (8th Cir. 2009). “Substantial evidence is that which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (citations omitted). The court may not reverse merely because substantial evidence exists in the record that would support a contrary outcome or because the court would have decided the case differently. See Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d 1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002).

         To determine whether the ALJ's final decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court is required to review the administrative record as a whole and to consider:

(1) The findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the claimant;
(3) The medical evidence given by the claimant's treating physicians;
(4) The subjective complaints of pain and description of the claimant's physical activity and impairment;
(5) The corroboration by third parties of the claimant's physical impairment;
(6) The testimony of vocational experts based upon prior hypothetical questions which fairly set forth the claimant's physical impairment; and
(7) The testimony of consulting physicians.

Brand v. Sec'y of Dept. of Health, Educ. & Welfare, 623 F.2d 523, 527 (8th Cir. 1980).

         The Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The impairment must be “of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step process for determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a), 404.1520(a). “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)).

         First, the claimant must not be engaged in “substantial gainful activity” (“SGA”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a), 404.1520(a). Second, the claimant must have a “severe impairment, ” defined as “any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). “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)).

         If the claimant has a severe impairment, the ALJ must determine at step three whether any of the claimant's impairments meets or equals an impairment 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.

         Disability claims based on mental disorders are evaluated in essentially the same manner as claims based on physical impairments. If the mental impairment is severe, the ALJ must determine whether it meets or equals any of the Listings. The Listings of mental impairments consist of three sets of “criteria”- the paragraph A criteria (a set of medical findings), paragraph B criteria (a set of impairment-related functional limitations), and paragraph C criteria (additional functional criteria applicable to certain Listings). The paragraph A criteria substantiate medically the presence of a particular mental disorder. The paragraphs B and C criteria describe the impairment-related functional limitations that are incompatible with the ability to perform SGA. There are four areas in which the ALJ rates the degree of functional limitation: (1) activities of daily living; (2) social functioning; (3) concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) episodes of decompensation (the “paragraph B criteria”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(3). A claimant can satisfy the paragraph C criteria by showing: (1) extended episodes of decompensation; (2) a “residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate, ” or (3) a “[c]urrent history of 1 or more years' inability to function outside a highly supportive ...


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