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Windle v. Berryhill

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

June 18, 2018

JACK WINDLE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RODNEY W. SIPPEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and supplemental security income pursuant to Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. Because the Commissioner's final decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, I will reverse the decision of the Commissioner and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum and Order.

         Procedural History

         Plaintiff alleged he became disabled beginning January 14, 2016, because of a learning disorder, low IQ, mood disorder, depression, and back pain.

         Plaintiff's application was initially denied March 20, 2014. After a hearing before an ALJ January 12, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits on March 16, 2016. On May 16, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. The ALJ's decision is thus the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         In this action for judicial review, plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in his duty to fully and fairly develop the record. Plaintiff asks that I reverse the Commissioner's final decision and remand the matter for further evaluation. For the reasons that follow, I will reverse the Commissioner's decision.

         Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ

         With respect to the medical records and other evidence of record, I adopt plaintiff's recitation of facts set forth in his Statement of Material Facts (ECF #18-1) as they are admitted by the Commissioner (ECF #23-1). I also adopt the additional facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of Additional Material Facts (ECF #23-2), as they are unrefuted by plaintiff. Together, these statements provide a fair and accurate description of the relevant record before the Court.

         Additional specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the parties' arguments.

         Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, plaintiff must prove that he is disabled. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001); Baker v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The Social Security Act defines disability as the “inability 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). An individual will be declared disabled “only if [his] physical or mental impairment or impairments are 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner engages in a five-step evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The Commissioner begins by deciding whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity. If the claimant is working, disability benefits are denied. Next, the Commissioner decides whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments, meaning that which significantly limits his ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant's impairment(s) is not severe, then he is not disabled. The Commissioner then determines whether claimant's impairment(s) meets or equals one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If claimant's impairment(s) is equivalent to one of the listed impairments, he is conclusively disabled. At the fourth step, the Commissioner establishes whether the claimant can perform his past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. Finally, the Commissioner evaluates various factors to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing any other work in the economy. If not, the claimant is declared disabled and becomes entitled to disability benefits.

         I must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Estes v. Barnhart, 275 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance but enough that a reasonable person would find it adequate to support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d 1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). Determining ...


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