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Fain v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

March 1, 2018

DEBRA MAXINE FAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          GREG KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff Debra Maxine Fain (“Fain”) petitions for review of an adverse decision by Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Fain applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Fain was not severely disabled under the Act, and had an RFC that allowed her to perform past relevant work.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. The Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         Procedural and Factual Background

         The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Fain filed her application on December 22, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of May 1, 2008. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Fain appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing, and on September 24, 2012, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. Fain appealed the decision to this Court, which remanded the case for further proceedings on October 27, 2015.

         On remand, the ALJ held a hearing on June 27, 2016, and denied Fain's application for benefits on July 13, 2016. The ALJ found that Fain was not under a disability, and determined that Fain retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of light work activity. Fain has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Standard of Review

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.

         Discussion

         Fain argues that the ALJ: (1) erred at step two by improperly weighing the medical opinion evidence; (2) erred at step four by finding Fain had an RFC to perform a range of light work activity; and (3) erred at step four by finding Fain could return to her past relevant work. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court finds these arguments are without merit.

         I. The ALJ properly weighed the medical opinion evidence, and substantial evidence supports his conclusion that Fain's mental impairments are not severe.

         Fain argues that the ALJ erred by finding her mental impairments are not severe. The ALJ evaluates whether the claimant's impairments are severe at the second step of the sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). A severe impairment significantly limits a claimant's ability to do work-related activities. See Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707-08 (8th Cir. 2007). The impairment must also be expected to result in death or have lasted-or be expected to last-for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. The severe impairment standard is not onerous, but it is not toothless either. Kirby, 500 F.3d at 708. It is the claimant's burden to establish severity. Id. at 707. To establish a severe mental impairment, the claimant must furnish objective medical and other evidence proving that her mental impairments resulted in either repeated episodes of decompensation, or in more than a mild limitation of daily living, social ...


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