United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the
application of Julian Rodriguez (“Plaintiff”) for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401,
et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of
the Complaint (Doc. 15) and Defendant has filed a brief in
support of the Answer (Doc. 20). The parties have consented
to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)
filed applications for DIB and Social Security Income
(“SSI”) on September 20, 2013, alleging an onset
date of August 8, 2012 (Tr. 142-54). Plaintiff was initially
denied on January 22, 2014, and he filed a Request for
Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on February 21, 2014 (Tr. 87-93). After
the hearing, by decision dated October 9, 2015, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled through June 30, 2014, his date last
insured, but disabled as of May 1, 2015 (Tr. 14-26).
Therefore, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision,
granting Plaintiff SSI benefits (Id.). On September
23, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s
request for review (Tr. 1-6). As such, the ALJ’s
decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
established that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2014
(Tr. 16). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since August 8, 2012, the
alleged onset date (Id.). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff has the severe impairments of obesity, alcoholic
liver disease, lumbar degenerative disc disease, and
hypertension since the alleged onset date (Tr. 17). The ALJ
further found that as of May 1, 2015, Plaintiff also had the
severe impairments of Bell’s palsy/stroke, diabetes,
and diabetic neuropathy (Id.). However, the ALJ
determined that no impairment or combination of impairments
met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr.
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff’s residual function capacity
(“RFC”) for two time periods. Prior to May 1,
2015, the ALJ determined Plaintiff to have the RFC to perform
light work with the following limitations (Id.).
Plaintiff could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds
(Id.). He could occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
balance stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl (Id.). He
could not have any concentrated exposure to excessive
vibration (Id.). He could not work at unprotected
heights or around moving/mechanical parts or other such
hazards (Id.). He could also not have any
concentrated exposure to excessive heat or cold or pulmonary
irritants (Id. at 19). Beginning on May 1, 2015, the
ALJ found Plaintiff to have the RFC to perform sedentary work
with the following limitations (Tr. 22). He can never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds (Id.). He can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs (Id.). He must
use a hand-held assistive device for ambulation
(Id.). He can occasionally balance and kneel
(Id.). He can never stoop, crouch, or crawl
(Id.). He cannot have any concentrated exposure to
excessive vibration (Id.). He cannot work at
unprotected heights or around moving/mechanical parts or
other such hazards (Id.). He cannot have any
concentrated exposure to excessive heat or cold or pulmonary
irritants (Id.). The ALJ found Plaintiff is unable
to perform any past relevant work (Tr. 24). Prior to May 1,
2015, the ALJ found that there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that he could
perform, including cleaner and merchandise marker (Tr.
24-25). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled
prior to May 1, 2015, but became disabled on that date and
has continued to be disabled through the date of the decision
(Tr. 25). Thus, the ALJ determined that based on the
application for DIB, Plaintiff was not disabled through June
30, 2014, the date last insured, and based on the application
for SSI, Plaintiff has been disabled since May 1, 2015 (Tr.
26). Plaintiff appeals, arguing a lack of substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner’s decision.
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, 404.1529.
“‘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)). In this sequential analysis, the
claimant first cannot be engaged in “substantial
gainful activity” to qualify for disability benefits.
20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the
claimant must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act
defines “severe impairment” as “any
impairment or combination of impairments which significantly
limits [claimant’s] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities. . . .” Id.
“‘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), citing Nguyen v.
Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir. 1996)).
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments 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.
the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v.
Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008)
(“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has
the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). The ALJ
will review a claimant’s RFC and the physical and
mental demands of the work the claimant has done in the past.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing
any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g),
404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis,
the Commissioner has the burden of production to show
evidence of other jobs in the national economy that can be
performed by a person with the claimant’s RFC.
Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3. If the claimant meets
these standards, the ALJ will find the claimant to be
disabled. “The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove
disability, however, remains with the claimant.”
Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir.
2000). See also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926,
931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153, 51155
(Aug. 26, 2003)); Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801,
806 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The burden of persuasion to prove
disability and to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant,
even when the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner
at step five.”). Even if a court finds that there is a
preponderance of the evidence against the ALJ’s
decision, the decision must be affirmed if it is supported by
substantial evidence. Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d 65,
68 (8th Cir. 1984). “Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would
find it adequate to support the Commissioner’s
conclusion.” Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d
1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002). See also Cox v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007).
not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo. Cox, 495 F.3d at
617. Instead, the district court must simply determine
whether the quantity and quality of evidence is enough so
that a reasonable mind might find it adequate to support the
ALJ’s conclusion. Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d
962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing McKinney v. Apfel,
228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). Weighing the evidence is
a function of the ALJ, who is the fact-finder. Masterson
v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). Thus, an
administrative decision which is supported by substantial
evidence is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence may also support an opposite conclusion
or because the reviewing court would have decided
differently. Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at 1022.
determine whether the Commissioner’s final decision is
supported by substantial evidence, the court is required to
review the ...