United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MELISSA D. TUCKER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review
of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision
denying Melissa D. Tucker's ("Tucker")
applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401,
October 28, 2013, Tucker protectively filed an application
for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et
seq., alleging disability beginning September 18, 2013,
due to connective tissue disease, lupus, memory problems,
Graves' disease, and fibromyalgia. After her application
was denied at the initial administrative level, Tucker
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge
("ALJ"). A hearing was held on January 21, 2015.
The ALJ issued a written decision denying Tucker's
application on January 29, 2015. On March 24, 2016, the
Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied
Tucker's request for review. Thus, the decision of the
ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. See
Sims v. Apfel, 560 U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
filed this appeal on May 16, 2016. (Doc. 1.) The Commissioner
filed an Answer. (Doc. 7.) Thereafter, Tucker filed a Brief
in Support of her Complaint (Doc. 17), the Commissioner filed
a Brief in Support of the Answer (Doc. 22), and Tucker filed
a Reply Brief (Doc. 23).
Court adopts Tucker's Statement of Facts (Doc. 17-1) as
supplemented by the Commissioner's Response to
Tucker's Statement of Facts (Doc. 22-1). 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.
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); see also Brantley v. Colvin, 2013 WL
4007441, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 2, 2013). The impairment must
be "of such severity that [the claimant] is not only
unable to do her previous work but cannot, considering her
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 she lives, or whether a specific job
vacancy exists for her, or whether she would be hired if she
applied for work." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
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(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." Gaff 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." 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).
the claimant must establish that his or her impairment 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.
considering step four, the ALJ must determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e),
416.920(e). RFC is defined as "the most a claimant can
do despite [her] limitations." Moore v. Astrue,
572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1)). At step four, the ALJ determines whether the
claimant can return to her past relevant work, by comparing
the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental demands
of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f),
416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy v. Astrue, 648
F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011). If the claimant can still
perform past relevant work, she will not be found to be
disabled; if the claimant cannot, the analysis proceeds to
the next step. Id.
five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to see if the claimant can
make an adjustment to other work in the national economy. 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant cannot
make an adjustment to other work, then she will be found to
be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1520(a)(4)(v). Through step four, the burden remains with
the claimant to prove that she is disabled.
Brantley, 2013 WL 4007441, at *3 (citation omitted).
At step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to
establish that the claimant maintains the RFC to perform a
significant number of jobs within the national economy.
Id. "The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove
disability, however, remains with the claimant."
Meyerpeter v. Astrue, 902 F.Supp.2d 1219, 1229 (E.D.
Mo. 2012) (citations omitted).
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. Pate-Fires v. Astrue, 564
F.3d 935, 942 (8th Cir. 2009). In determining whether the
evidence is substantial, the Court considers evidence that
both supports and detracts from the Commissioner's
decision. Andrews v. Colvin,791 F.3d 978, 983 (8th
Cir. 2015); Cox v. Astrue,495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th
Cir. 2007). As long as substantial evidence supports the
decision, the Court may not reverse it merely because
substantial evidence exists in the record that ...