United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
J. EPPS, JR., UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Diana Marie Ostrander seeks judicial review of a final
administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (the Commissioner) denying her disability insurance
benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq, and Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq.
Ms. Ostrander 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 remanded for
further consideration and development of the record.
Ostrander has previously worked in the food industry at both
Wendy's and Sonic Drive-In, where she was both a carhop
and manager. AR 16-17. Ms. Ostrander filed her application
for DIB and SSI on July 8, 2014, alleging a disability onset
date of June 13, 2014. AR 14. She contends that she is
disabled primarily due to the mental impairment of
schizophrenia, which causes her to suffer from auditory and
visual hallucinations and paranoia. AR 20. Ms.
Ostrander's claims were initially denied on September 17,
2014. AR 14. She then requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ALJ Stephan Bell held a
hearing on February 5, 2016, in Columbia, Missouri. AR 14.
Ms. Ostrander was represented by counsel at the hearing. AR
14. The ALJ issued a decision on March 1, 2016, in which Ms.
Ostrander's claim was denied. AR 14-26. Ms. Ostrander
sought review by the Appeals Council, which denied review on
December 20, 2016. AR 1-3. Thus, the ALJ's decision
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
February 27, 2017, Ms. Ostrander filed a complaint (Doc. 5)
in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's
decision. The case was originally assigned to United States
Magistrate Judge Matt J. Whitworth. The case was reassigned
to the undersigned (Doc. 15) on August 31, 2017. The parties,
shortly thereafter and within 14 days, consented to the
exercise of jurisdiction (Doc. 17) by the undersigned. The
parties have fully briefed the issues and an oral argument
was held on January 23, 2018.
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.