United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
JOEY J. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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
Disability Determination-Five Steps
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).
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).
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. §§
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).
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).
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.
The ALJ's Decision
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.
the ALJ assessed Roberts's RFC. The ALJ found that
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
(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.
Standard of Review
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).