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Gude v. Berryhill

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

March 26, 2018

DAVID C. GUDE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is 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.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 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.

         With 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.

         II. STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY UNDER THE ACT

         To be 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).

         To 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.

         Prior 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.

         Through 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).

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         Applying 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 RFC:

[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 public.

(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 ...


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