United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
DAVID C. GUDE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)
for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy
A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
denying the application of Plaintiff David C. Gude
(“Plaintiff”) for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. (the
“Act”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction
of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). (Doc. 9). Because I find that remand is
required for further consideration of the treating
physician's opinion, I will reverse the
Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application and
remand the case for further proceedings.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
27, 2015, Plaintiff applied for SSI, alleging that he had
been unable to work since March 1, 2015 due to bone cancer
and stage-four leukemic lymphoma. (Tr. 215, 241). His
application was initially denied, and Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (Tr. 158-62,
165-66). On March 31, 2016, after a hearing, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr.
94-108, 114-37). Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of
Hearing Decision with the Social Security
Administration's Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council
declined to review the case. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff has
exhausted all administrative remedies, and the decision of
the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration.
regard to Plaintiff's testimony, medical records, and
work history, the Court accepts the facts as presented in the
parties' respective statements of facts and responses.
The Court will discuss specific facts relevant to the
parties' arguments as needed in the discussion below.
STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY UNDER THE ACT
eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001);
Baker v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955
F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act
defines as disabled a person who is unable “to engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or 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); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d
734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The impairment must be “of
such severity that 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 the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a); see also McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605,
611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing the five-step process). At
Step One, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is
currently engaging in “substantial gainful
activity”; if so, then he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. At
Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant
has a severe impairment, which is “any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities”; if the claimant does not have a severe
impairment, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
611. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (the “listings”). 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611. If the
claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will find
the claimant disabled; if not, the Commissioner proceeds with
the rest of the five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(d); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's
“residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can
do despite [his or her] limitations.” Moore v.
Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R.
416.920(e). At Step Four, the Commissioner determines whether
the claimant can return to his past relevant work, by
comparing the claimant's RFC with the physical and mental
demands of the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy,
648 F.3d at 611. If the claimant can perform his past
relevant work, he is not disabled; if the claimant cannot,
the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step
Five, the Commissioner considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national
economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other
work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(v); McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that
he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step
Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish
that, given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work
experience, there are a significant number of other jobs in
the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Id.; Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062, 1064
(8th Cir. 2012).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the foregoing five-step analysis, the ALJ here found that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the application date; that Plaintiff had the severe
impairments of leukemia, small lymphotic lymphoma, affective
disorder, and anxiety disorder; and that Plaintiff did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets
or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
(Tr. 96-97). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following
[Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except: He can
never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds or be exposed to
unprotected heights or hazardous work environments. He can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch or
crawl. He is limited to remembering and carrying out simple
routine tasks and making simple work-related decisions. He is
restricted from production pace tasks but would meet end of
day goals. He is capable of frequent contact with supervisors
and coworkers but only occasional contact with the general
(Tr. 99). At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
unable to perform his past relevant work. (Tr. 107). At Step
Five, relying on the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), the ALJ found that there were jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform, including representative occupations
such as folding machine operator (Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”) No.
208.685-014), garment sorter (DOT No. 222.687-014),
and patcher (DOT No. 723.687-010). (Tr. 108). The