United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
JANICE M. O'REILLY, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER AND OPINION REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S
FINAL DECISION AND AWARDING BENEFITS
D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE
is Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision denying her application for
disability insurance benefits. For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and the case is
remanded with the instruction to award benefits to Plaintiff.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to a determination of whether the decision is
“supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole. Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance
but…enough that a reasonable mind would find it
adequate to support the conclusion.” Andrews v.
Colvin, 791 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2015) (citations
omitted). “As long as substantial evidence in the
record supports the Commissioner's decision, we may not
reverse it because substantial evidence exists in the record
that would have supported a contrary outcome, or because we
would have decided the case differently.” Cline v.
Colvin, 771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014) (citation
omitted). Though advantageous to the Commissioner, this
standard also requires the Court consider evidence that
fairly detracts from the final decision. Anderson v.
Astrue, 696 F.3d 790, 793 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation
omitted). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere
scintilla” of evidence; it is relevant evidence a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Gragg v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 932, 938 (8th
Court has the authority to affirm, modify, or reverse the
decision of the ALJ, “with or without remanding the
case for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Ordinarily, when an ALJ's decision denying benefits is
reversed, the “abundant deference” owed to the
ALJ counsels in favor of remanding the case for further
administrative proceedings. Buckner v. Apfel, 213
F.3d 1006, 1011 (8th Cir. 2000) (quoting Cox v.
Apfel, 160 F.3d 1203, 1210 (8th Cir. 1998)).
Accordingly, the Court “may enter an immediate finding
of disability only if the record ‘overwhelmingly
supports' such a finding.” Id. (quoting
Thompson v. Sullivan, 957 F.2d 611, 614 (8th Cir.
1992)). Remand for further administrative proceedings is not
appropriate where “further proceedings would serve no
useful purpose” and “would merely delay receipt
of benefits.” Olson v. Shalala, 48 F.3d 321,
323 (8th Cir. 1995); Cline v. Sullivan, 939 F.2d
560, 569 (8th Cir. 1991).
who was born in 1964, filed an application for disability
insurance benefits on December 16, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of August 16, 2013. R. at 15, 31,
168-69, 401. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied, and
after a hearing, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Christina Young Mein found Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at
15-26. Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the
Appeals Council. R. at 1-4. She then appealed to this Court.
O'Reilly v. Berryhill, No. 16-CV-6098-ODS.
October 2017, the Court reversed Commissioner's decision,
and remanded the matter for additional administrative
proceedings. R. at 496-98. Upon remand, the Court ordered the
ALJ to (1) consider whether work performed by Plaintiff in
2014 should be deemed unsuccessful work attempts or
substantial gainful activities; (2) obtain a consultative
examination to determine the extent of Plaintiff's
physical and mental limitations; (3) reformulate the RFC, and
when doing so, consider the consultative examinations,
include limitations related to Plaintiff's motor
coordination, manual dexterity, and grip strength consistent
with Dr. Price's findings or explain why no such
limitations are included in the RFC, and include limitations
related to Plaintiff's cognitive impairments or specify
why no such limitations are included in the RFC; (4) propose
a hypothetical to the vocational expert (“VE”)
accounting for the limitations set forth in the reformulated
RFC; (5) re-evaluate Plaintiff's credibility; and (6)
consider new evidence properly before the ALJ. Id.
remand, ALJ Christina Young Mein held another hearing. R. at
423-48. On July 31, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision finding
Plaintiff was not disabled. R. at 401-14. The ALJ determined
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: history of
seizures, multiple sclerosis, a cognitive disorder,
depression, and obsessive behavior. R. at 404. She also
concluded Plaintiff had the following limitations:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
that she cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds or work at
unprotected heights or around hazardous machinery. The
claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop,
kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant can occasionally
balance on uneven surfaces. The claimant should avoid more
than occasional vibration. The claimant cannot use foot
controls more than occasionally. The claimant can frequently
reach, handle, finger, feel and push or pull. The claimant
cannot read very small print but can read ordinary newspaper
or book print. The claimant cannot work in extremes of cold
and heat. The claimant can work in moderate noise levels. The
claimant can occasionally operate a motor vehicle, tolerate
wetness and humidity, and tolerate exposure to fumes, odors,
dust, and pulmonary irritants. The claimant can understand,
remember and carry out simple, routine tasks that may entail
detailed instructions but not complex tasks or fast-paced
production quotas that may be too demanding or stressful. The
claimant cannot interact with the public in the performance
of job duties but can occasionally interact with coworkers.
The claimant can adapt to occasional changes in a work
R. at 406. Based upon Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform work as a
document specialist, cafeteria attendant, or cleaner and
polisher. R. at 413-14, 444-46.
Failure to Meet Burden at Step Five
Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse the ALJ's decision
and award her benefits because the ALJ failed to sustain her
burden at step five. When determining whether a claimant is
disabled, the ALJ employs a five-step process. Jones v.
Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2010). An ALJ
“must determine whether the claimant is able to do any
other work considering her residual functional capacity, age,
education, and work experience.” R. at 403. “If
the claimant is not able to do other work and meets the
duration requirement, she is disabled.” Id.
While the claimant generally has the burden of demonstrating
she is disabled, at step five, “a limited burden of
going forward with the evidence shifts to the Social Security
Administration.” Id. To support a finding that
Plaintiff is not disabled at step five, “the Social
Security Administration is responsible for ...