United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
MICHAEL A. WHITEAKER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying the application
of Michael Whiteaker (“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 has filed a brief in support of the
Complaint (ECF No. 18), and Defendant has filed a brief in
support of the Answer (ECF No. 23).
filed his applications for DIB and SSI under Titles II and
XVI of the Social Security Act on July 3, 2014. Plaintiff
claimed he became disabled on March 20, 2014, because of
depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, back
pain, a bulging disk, headaches, diabetes, high blood
pressure, reflux, and breathing problems. (Tr. 366.)
Plaintiff was initially denied relief on November 3, 2014.
(Tr. 283-289). At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held
on February 24, 2016, before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), at which Plaintiff and a vocational
expert testified. (Tr. 178-214.) After the hearing, the ALJ
found Plaintiff was not disabled from March 20, 2014, through
the date of his decision, dated May 10, 2016. (Tr. 135-152.)
On June 3, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-7.)
Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of
action for judicial review, Plaintiff claims the ALJ's
decision is not supported by substantial evidence on the
record as a whole. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that: 1)
the ALJ erred in rejecting the medical opinion of treating
physician, Dr. Erin Humphrey; and 2) on remand, the ALJ
should consider the new and material evidence Plaintiff
submitted to the Appeals Council on July 8, 2016.
reasons that follow, the ALJ did not err in his
Medical Records and Other Evidence Before the ALJ
respect to the medical records and other evidence of record,
the Court adopts Plaintiff's recitation of facts set
forth in his Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (ECF 18-1) and
notes that they are admitted in their entirety by the
Commissioner (ECF 23-1). The Court also adopts the additional
facts set forth in the Commissioner's Statement of
Additional Facts (ECF 23-2) and notes they are unrefuted by
Plaintiff. Together, these statements provide a fair and
accurate description of the relevant record before the Court.
specific facts will be discussed as needed to address the
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.
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(a), 404.1520(a).
‘“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)). First, the claimant must not be
engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a), 404.1520(a).
the claimant must have a “severe impairment, ”
defined as “any impairment or combination of
impairments which significantly limits [claimant's]
physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(c),
404.1520(c). ‘“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] his 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)). Third, the claimant must
establish that his or his impairment meets or equals an
impairment 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.
considering step four, the ALJ must determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e). RFC is defined as
“the most a claimant can do despite his
limitations.” Moore v. Astrue, 572 F.3d 520,
523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)).
At step four, the ALJ 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. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
416.920(f); McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th
Cir. 2011). If the claimant can still perform past relevant
work, he will not be found to be disabled; if the claimant
cannot, the analysis proceeds to the next step.
McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
five, the ALJ considers the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience to see if the claimant can
make an adjustment to other work in the national economy. 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the claimant cannot
make an adjustment to other work, then he will be found to be
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(a)(4)(v),
404.1520(a)(4)(v). Through step four, the burden remains with
the claimant to prove that he is disabled. Brantley v.
Colvin, No. 4:10CV2184 HEA, 2013 WL 4007441, at *3 (E.D.
Mo. Aug. 2, 2013) (citation omitted). At step five, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish that the
claimant maintains the RFC to perform a significant number of
jobs within the national economy. Id. “The
ultimate burden of persuasion to prove disability, however,
remains with the claimant.” Meyerpeter v.
Astrue, 902 F.Supp.2d 1219, 1229 (E.D. Mo. 2012)
Court 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