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Brock v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

July 31, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Willie J.Epps, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Stacy Brock seeks judicial review[1] of a final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 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. Ms. Brock contends the administrative record (AR) does not contain substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that she was not disabled during the relevant period. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision will be reversed and remanded for further consideration and development of the record.

         I. Background

         Ms. Brock applied for DIB and SSI on June 8, 2015. (AR 15). Her claim was initially denied, and she subsequently filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (AR 15). On September 26, 2017, the ALJ held a hearing on this matter. Id. Ms. Brock testified at the hearing and discussed issues relating to her alleged disability, including complications she suffers as a result of fibromyalgia and narcolepsy. (AR 47). The ALJ heard this testimony and also reviewed Ms. Brock's objective medical records. (AR 15-27).

         The ALJ ultimately decided Ms. Brock was not disabled. (AR 27). The ALJ found Ms. Brock had severe impairments of obesity, degenerative disc disease (DDD) in the cervical and lumber spine, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and migraines. (AR 18). However, the ALJ noted that Ms. Brock's subjective complaints regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her alleged limitations were not entirely consistent with all the evidence in the record. (AR 22-24). Furthermore, the ALJ found Dr. Pak's opinion that Ms. Brock could not perform sedentary work to be inconsistent with the record. (AR 24). As a result, the ALJ concluded that she retained the ability to perform sedentary work with additional limitations. (AR 20-21). On August 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Brock's request for review. (AR 1-6). Thus, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Disability Determination and the Bnrden of Proof

         The burden of establishing a disability as defined by the SSA in 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) rests on the claimant. Simmons v. Massanari, 264 F.3d 751, 754 (8th Cir. 2001); Roth v. Shalala, 45 F.3d 279, 282 (8th Cir. 1995). To meet the burden, the claimant must show a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or will likely last for a period of at least one year and has rendered claimant unable to engage in any "substantial gainful activity." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Simmons, 264 F.3d at 754; see also McMillian v. Schweiker, 697 F.2d 215, 220 (8th Cir. 1983). Based on these criteria, the Social Security Administration has established a five-step, sequential evaluation process for appraising whether a claimant is disabled and benefit-eligible. 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1520 and 416.920; see also Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007).

         The Commissioner must evaluate:

(1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a substantial gainful activity;
(2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities;
(3) whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations;
(4) whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform his or her past relevant work; and
(5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform.

Dixon v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 602, 605 (8th Cir. 2003); Simmons, 264 F.3d at 754-55.

         At step one, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity" (SGA). 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i) and 416.920(a)(4)(i). "Substantial work activity" is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. 20 C.F.R § 404.1572(a). "Gainful work activity" is work that is usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized. 20 C.F.R § 404.1572(b). If the claimant is engaged in SGA, then the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R §§ ...

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