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Roberts v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 22, 2018

JOEY J. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denied plaintiff Joey Roberts's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Roberts now seeks judicial review (#13). The Commissioner opposes the motion (#18), and the issue is ripe. The Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and is affirmed.

         I. Procedural History

         Roberts's application was denied at the initial determination level. He then appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ found that Roberts is not disabled as defined by the Act because he can perform work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. Roberts exhausted his administrative remedies and now appeals that decision.

         II. Disability Determination-Five Steps

         A claimant is disabled if unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months . . . .” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is disabled if he is “not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education and work experience engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists . . . in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.” Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process when evaluating whether a claimant has a disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007). First, the Commissioner considers a claimant's work activity. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i).

         Second, if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner looks to see “whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities.” Dixon v. Barnhart, 343 F.3d 602, 605 (8th Cir. 2003). “An impairment is not severe if it amounts only to a slight abnormality that would not significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707; see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c), 416.921(a).

         Third, if the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner considers the impairment's medical severity. If the impairment meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is considered disabled, regardless of age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d); Kelley v. Callahan, 133 F.3d 583, 588 (8th Cir. 1998).

         Fourth, if the claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not meet or equal one of the presumptively disabling impairments, the Commissioner assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to determine the claimant's ability to perform his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.945(a)(4). “RFC is a medical question defined wholly in terms of the claimant's physical ability to perform exertional tasks or, in other words, what the claimant can still do despite his or her physical or mental limitations.” Lewis v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1). If a claimant retains the RFC to perform past relevant work, he or she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).

         Fifth, if the claimant's RFC does not allow the claimant to perform past relevant work, the burden to show that the claimant maintains the RFC to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy shifts to the Commissioner. See Bladow v. Apfel, 205 F.3d 356, 358-59 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000); Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, the Commissioner finds the claimant not disabled. If the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, the Commissioner finds the claimant disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). At Step Five, even though the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner, the burden of persuasion to prove disability remains on the claimant. Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2004).

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         At Step One, the ALJ found that Roberts met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2017, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 28, 2013. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Roberts suffers from two severe physical impairments: osteoarthritis and vision loss. The ALJ found that Roberts's obesity was nonsevere and that his mental impairments (stemming from depression) are nonsevere. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Roberts does not have an impairment that meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the regulations.

         Next, the ALJ assessed Roberts's RFC. The ALJ found that Roberts

has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he could not work at unprotected heights, around moving/mechanical parts, or other such hazards; he could not perform work that involves the operation of heavy equipment or machinery; he could frequently engage in overhead reaching, pushing, and pulling with the left upper extremity; he could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could occasionally stoop, bend, and crawl; and the claimant could not perform work for which near acuity, that is clarity at 20 inches or less, is an essential function.

(Tr. 20). At Step Four, the ALJ relied on vocational expert (“VE”) testimony and found that Roberts cannot perform any past relevant work. At Step Five, the ALJ analyzed whether Roberts can successfully adjust to other work and concluded, based on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”), that Roberts is able to perform work as a hand packer or cleaner. The ALJ then found that these jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy and concluded that Roberts is not disabled.

         IV. Standard of Review

         The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if the decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). This “substantial evidence test, ” however, is “more than a mere search of the record for evidence supporting the [Commissioner's] findings.” Roberts v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007) (alteration in original) (quoting Gavin v. Heckler, 811 F.2d 1195, 1199 (8th Cir. 1987)). The Court must also consider any evidence that fairly detracts from the Commissioner's decision. Id. “[I]f there is substantial evidence on the record as a whole, [the Court] must affirm the administrative decision, even if the record could also have supported an opposite decision.” Weikert v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 1249, 1252 (8th Cir. 1992).

         V. ...


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