United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern 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 Gretchen Carter (“Plaintiff”) for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381,
et seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of
the Complaint (Doc. 14), Defendant has filed a brief in
support of the Answer (Doc. 17), and Plaintiff has filed a
reply brief (Doc. 18). The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (Doc. 8).
filed her applications for DIB and SSI in January 2009 (Tr.
102-06). Plaintiff was initially denied on April 10, 2009,
and she filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 61-62, 68-72). After a
hearing, by decision dated June 12, 2010, the ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 7-20). On June 30, 2011, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
(Tr. 1-5). Plaintiff appealed to the United States District
Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and the Honorable
Nannette A. Baker reversed and remanded Plaintiff's case
to the Commissioner on May 14, 2013 (Tr. 1006-21).
Accordingly, the Appeals Counsel remanded the case to an ALJ
for further proceedings consistent with the Court's order
(Tr. 1022-25). While her case was pending before this court,
in April 2013, the Commissioner found Plaintiff disabled
beginning May 18, 2011 under a subsequent SSI application
(Tr. 1702). After a second hearing, in a decision dated
February 7, 2014, a different ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled (Tr. 931-950). Plaintiff again sought judicial
review from this Court and the Honorable Nannette A. Baker
again reversed and remanded the case to the Commissioner on
July 22, 2015 (Tr. 1784-95). After a third hearing, by
decision dated April 25, 2016, the current ALJ found
Plaintiff not disabled prior to May 18, 2011 (Tr. 1702-12).
On January 10, 2017, the Appeals Counsel denied
Plaintiff's request for review of the April 2016 decision
(Tr. 1688-94). As such, the ALJ's April 25, 2016 decision
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirement through September 30, 2009 (Tr. 1705). The ALJ
found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since November 15, 2004, the alleged onset date
(Id.). The ALJ further found Plaintiff has the
severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, retinopathy,
cataracts, retinal detachments, and hypoglycemic episodes,
but 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
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations (Id.).
She should never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds
(Id.). She should avoid all exposure to unprotected
heights and hazardous machinery (Id.). She should
avoid work that requires depth perception (Id.). The
ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing her past relevant
work as a hand packager (Tr. 1710). The ALJ alternatively
found that there are other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that she can perform
including furniture rental consultant, usher, and school bus
monitor (Tr. 1710-11). Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
has not been under a disability from November 15, 2004 to May
17, 2011 (Tr. 1712). Plaintiff appeals, arguing a lack of
substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's
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.
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 ...