United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division
J. EPPS, JR., United States Magistrate Judge
Tamara McCall seeks judicial review of a final administrative
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(Commissioner) denying her disability insurance benefits
(DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401 et seq. Ms. McCall contends that
the administrative record (AR) does not contain substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that she
was not disabled during the relevant period. For the reasons
that follow, the Commissioner's decision will be reversed
and benefits will be awarded.
McCall was born on May 8, 1970. She had previously worked as
a phlebotomist, lab technician, and pharmacy technician
before moving into the role of stay-at-home mother. AR
877-888. Ms. McCall protectively filed her application for
DIB on March 19, 2007. AR 73-82. Her claim was initially
denied on July 23, 2007, and she requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on August 30, 2007. AR 69.
Ms. McCall appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ
on October 22, 2008. AR 11. On March 13, 2009, the ALJ issued
a decision that Ms. McCall was not under a
“disability” as defined in the Social Security
Act. AR 11-18. On September 24, 2009, the Appeals Council of
the Social Security Administration denied Ms. McCall's
request for review. AR 1-3. This Court granted Ms.
McCall's motion to remand for further proceedings on
September 29, 2010. AR 418-419. On November 17, 2011,
following remand and two additional hearings, an ALJ again
found that Ms. McCall was not under a disability for the
relevant period. AR 400-408. The Appeals Council denied Ms.
McCall's request for review on August 30, 2012. AR
394-396. This Court again remanded for further proceedings by
the ALJ on March 30, 2014. AR 921-924. On December 28, 2015,
following another hearing, an ALJ again found that Ms. McCall
was not under a disability during the relevant period. AR
877-888. The Appeals Council denied Ms. McCall's request
for review on November 18, 2016. AR 856-859. Thus Ms. McCall
has exhausted all of her administrative remedies, and the
ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the
January 11, 2017, Ms. McCall filed a complaint in this Court
seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1).
The case was originally assigned to United States Magistrate
Judge Matt J. Whitworth. The case was reassigned to the
undersigned on August 31, 2017. (Doc. 22). The parties,
shortly thereafter and within 10 days, consented to the
exercise of jurisdiction by the undersigned. (Doc. 33). The
parties have fully briefed the issues and an oral argument
was held on January 9, 2018.
Disability Determination and the Burden of Proof
the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security
Administration has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether an individual is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a);
See Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir.
2007). The steps are followed in order. If it is determined
that the claimant is or is not disabled at a particular step
of the evaluation process, the evaluation then will not go on
to the next step.
one, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is
engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) and 416.920(a)(4)(i).
Substantial gainful activity (SGA) is defined as work
activity that is both substantial and gainful.
“Substantial work activity” is work activity that
involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1572(a). “Gainful work
activity” is work that is usually done for pay or
profit, whether or not a profit is realized. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1572(b). If the claimant is engaged in SGA, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i) and 416.920(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is
not engaging in SGA, the analysis proceeds to the second
two, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant has
a medically determinable severe impairment that significantly
limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to
perform basic work activities. Dixon v. Barnhart,
353 F.3d 602, 605 (8th Cir. 2003). An impairment or
combination of impairments is not severe when medical and
other evidence establish only a slight abnormality or a
combination of slight abnormalities that would have no more
than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work.
Kirby, 500 F.3d. at 707; 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1521 and 416.921. If the claimant does not have a severe
medically determinable impairment or combination of
impairments, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant
has a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the
analysis proceeds to the third step.
three, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is of
a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P appendix
1. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526. If
the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments
is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of a
listing and meets the duration requirement, the claimant is
disabled. If it does not, the analysis proceeds to the next
four, the Commissioner will assess the claimant's
residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine the
claimant's ability to do physical and mental work
activities on a sustained basis despite limitations from
claimant's impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
416.945(a)(4). The claimant is responsible for providing
evidence to the Commissioner, but the Commissioner is
responsible for developing the claimant's complete
medical history, arranging for consultative examination, and
assisting claimant with gathering other medical evidence. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(3) and 416.945(a)(3). If a
claimant retains the RFC to perform past relevant work, then
the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant is unable to do
any past relevant work or does not have any past relevant
work, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and last step.
five, if the claimant's RFC will not allow the claimant
to perform past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant is able to do
any other work considering claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience. If the claimant is able to do
other work, the claimant is not disabled. If the claimant is
not able to do other work and meets the duration requirement,
the claimant is disabled. Although the claimant generally
continues to have the burden of proving disability at this
step, a limited burden of going forward with the evidence
shifts to the Commissioner. In order to support a finding
that a claimant is not disabled at this step, the
Commissioner is responsible for providing evidence that
demonstrates that other work exists in significant numbers in
the national economy that the claimant can do given the RFC,
age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1512(g), 404.1560(c), 416.912(g) and 416.960(c). (Doc.