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Hill v. Berryhill

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

June 14, 2018

C. YVONNE HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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

         I. Procedural History

         Hill filed an application for disability insurance benefits on July 7, 2014, alleging that her disability began on July 1, 2014. Her claim was initially denied on September 3. She requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and appeared for a hearing before the ALJ on March 3, 2016. In the ALJ's April 5, 2016 decision, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had severe impairments of lumbar and cervical spine degenerative disc disease, a history of cervical fusion surgery, obesity, fibromyalgia, and diabetes with peripheral neuropathy. However, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review on March 17, 2017. Thus, the ALJ's April 5, 2016 decision is subject to judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         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 plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2018, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2014. At Step Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from several severe physical impairments: lumbar and cervical spine degenerative disc disease, a history of cervical fusion surgery, obesity, fibromyalgia, and diabetes with peripheral neuropathy. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that ...


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