United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the
application of Nigel King (“Plaintiff”) for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381,
et seq. Plaintiff filed a brief in support of the
Complaint (Doc. 14), Defendant has filed a brief in support
of the Answer (Doc. 17), and Plaintiff filed a reply brief
(Doc. 18). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of
the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to
Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (Doc. 7).
filed her applications for DIB and SSI on March 27, 2014 (Tr.
283-90). Plaintiff was initially denied on May 9, 2014, and
she filed a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 211-21). After a hearing, by
decision dated May 19, 2016, the ALJ found Plaintiff not
disabled (Tr. 189-210). On August 31, 2017, the Appeals
Council granted Plaintiff's request for review (Tr.
278-82). On December 4, 2017, the Appeals Council issued an
unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff not disabled (Tr.
1-7). As such, the Appeals Council's decision stands as
the final decision of the Commissioner.
DECISIONS OF THE ALJ AND THE APPEALS COUNCIL
determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since January 1, 2014, the alleged onset
date (Tr. 194). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc and joint disease of
the lumbar spine; degenerative joint disease and arthritis of
the right knee; asthma; retrocele with prolapse; history of
seizure disorder with normal electroencephalogram testing;
depression; and anxiety (Tr. 195-97). However, the ALJ found
that no impairment or combination of impairments met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr.
considering the entire record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform sedentary work,  with the following limitations (Tr.
199). She can lift or carry 10 pounds occasionally and less
than 10 pounds frequently and can push or pull only to the
weight limits (Id.). She can sit 6 hours total in an
8-hour workday and can stand or walk 2 hours total in an
8-hour workday, each for a combined total of 8 hours in an
8-hour workday (Id.). Plaintiff can occasionally
stoop, crouch, and climb ramps or stairs (Id.). She
cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and she cannot
crawl or kneel (Id.). She can have no concentrated
exposure to pulmonary irritants such as smoke, dust, odors,
fumes, gases, and poor ventilation (Id.). Plaintiff
also can have no exposure to whole body vibration and cannot
operate motor vehicles (Id.). She should avoid
hazards of dangerous unprotected heights and dangerous
unprotected machinery (Id.). Mentally, Plaintiff is
able to understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks that
are routine (Id.). She is able to use judgment in
making commensurate work-related decisions (Id.).
She is able to occasionally interact appropriately with the
general public superficially and away from crowds, and she
also is able to occasionally interact appropriately with
co-workers and supervisors (Id.). She is able to
respond appropriately to changes in a routine and normal work
found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work (Tr.
203-04). Nonetheless, the ALJ determined there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff can perform, including final assembler, table
worker, and document preparer (Tr. 204-05). Thus, the ALJ
concluded that a finding of “not disabled” was
appropriate (Tr. 205). Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals
Council (Tr. 273-77).
review of the ALJ's decision, and relevant to
Plaintiff's appeal to this Court, the Appeals Council
clarified the weight given to one medical consultant and
adopted the ALJ's findings with respect to
Plaintiff's severe impairments, residual functional
capacity, past relevant work, and ability to perform work
existing in significant numbers in the national economy (Tr.
1-7). The Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's findings in
their entirety and concluded Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr.
7). Plaintiff appeals, arguing a lack of substantial evidence
to support the Commissioner's decision.
the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a
five-step process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529. “If
a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any step in the
evaluation of disability, the process ends and the claimant
is determined to be not disabled.” Goff v.
Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th
Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, the claimant first
cannot be engaged in “substantial gainful
activity” to qualify for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant
must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act defines
“severe impairment” as “any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits
[claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. . . .” Id. “‘The
sequential evaluation process may be terminated at step two
only when the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments would have no more than a minimal impact on [his
or] her ability to work.'” Page v. Astrue,
484 F.3d 1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v.
Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001), citing
Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31 (8th Cir.
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d).
If the claimant has one of, or the medical equivalent of,
these impairments, then the claimant is per se disabled
without consideration of the claimant's age, education,
or work history. Id.
the impairment must prevent the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v.
Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008)
(“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has
the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). The ALJ
will review a claimant's RFC and the physical and mental
demands of the work the claimant has done in the past. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing
any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g),
404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis,
the Commissioner has the burden of production to show
evidence of other jobs in the national economy that can be
performed by a person with the claimant's RFC.
Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3. If the claimant meets
these standards, the ALJ will find the claimant to be
disabled. “The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove
disability, however, remains with the claimant.”
Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir.
2000). See also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926,
931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153, 51155
(Aug. 26, 2003)); Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801,
806 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The burden of persuasion to prove
disability and to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant,
even when the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner
at step five.”). Even if a court finds that there is a
preponderance of the evidence against the ALJ's decision,
the decision must be affirmed if it is supported by
substantial evidence. Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d 65,
68 (8th Cir. 1984). “Substantial evidence is less than
a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would
find it adequate to support the Commissioner's
conclusion.” Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d
1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002). See also Cox v. Astrue,
495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007).
not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo. Cox, 495 F.3d at
617. Instead, the district court must simply determine
whether the quantity and quality of evidence is enough so
that a reasonable mind might find it adequate to support the
ALJ's conclusion. Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962,
966 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing McKinney v. Apfel, 228
F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000)). Weighing the evidence is a
function of the ALJ, who is the fact-finder. Masterson v.
Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). Thus, an
administrative decision which is supported by substantial
evidence is not subject to reversal merely because
substantial evidence may also support an opposite conclusion
or because the reviewing court would have decided
differently. Krogmeier, 294 F.3d at 1022.
determine whether the Commissioner's final decision is
supported by substantial evidence, the court is required to
review the administrative record as a whole and to consider:
(1) Findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the