United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
C. YVONNE HILL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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).
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 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 ...