United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denied
plaintiff Lora Fellner's applications for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. Fellner now
seeks judicial review. The Commissioner opposes the motion.
The issues being fully briefed, and for the reasons set
forth, this Court will REVERSE and REMAND
the Commissioner's decision for further proceedings
consistent with this Order.
application was denied at the initial determination level.
She then appeared before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). The ALJ found Fellner is not disabled
because her symptoms were not supported by the medical
evidence available. Fellner then filed a request for review
of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the
Social Security Administration. The Appeals Council accepted
review. Thus, the decision of the Appeals Council stands as
the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.981. Fellner now seeks review by this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Disability Determination-Five Steps
disability is defined 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
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A
claimant has a disability “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[.]” Id. §
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential process when
evaluating whether the claimant has a disability. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(1). First, the Commissioner considers the
claimant's work activity. If the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity, the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).
if the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful
activity, the Commissioner looks to see whether “the
claimant has a severe impairment [that] significantly limits
[the] claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic
work activities.” Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d
734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). “An impairment is not severe if it
amounts only to a slight abnormality that would not
significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities.” Kirby v.
Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1520a(d).
if the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner
considers the impairment's medical severity. If the
impairment meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed in the regulations, the claimant is
considered disabled, regardless of age, education, and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), (d).
if the claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not
meet or equal one of the presumptively disabling impairments,
the Commissioner assesses whether the claimant retains the
“residual functional capacity” (RFC) to perform
his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1545(a)(5)(i). An RFC is
“defined as the most a claimant can still do despite
his or her physical or mental limitations.” Martise
v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 909, 923 (8th Cir. 2011); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). While an RFC must
be based “on all relevant evidence, including the
medical records, observations of treating physicians and
others, and an individual's own description of his
limitations, ” an RFC is nonetheless an
“administrative assessment”- not a medical
assessment-and therefore “it is the responsibility of
the ALJ, not a physician, to determine a claimant's
RFC.” Boyd v. Colvin, 831F.3d 1015, 1020 (8th
Cir. 2016). Thus, “there is no requirement that an RFC
finding be supported by a specific medical opinion.”
Hensley v. Colvin, 829 F.3d 926, 932 (8th Cir.
2016). Ultimately, the claimant is responsible for
providing evidence relating to his RFC and the
Commissioner is responsible for developing the
claimant's “complete medical history, including
arranging for a consultative examination(s) if necessary, and
making every reasonable effort to help [the claimant] get
medical reports from [the claimant's] own medical
sources.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). If, upon the
findings of the ALJ, it is determined the claimant retains
the RFC to perform past relevant work, he or she is not
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).
if the claimant's RFC does not allow the claimant to
perform past relevant work, the burden of production to show
the claimant maintains the RFC to perform work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy shifts to the
Commissioner. See Brock v. Astrue, 574 F.3d 1062,
1064 (8th Cir. 2012); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If
the claimant can make an adjustment to other work that exists
in significant numbers in the national economy, the
Commissioner finds the claimant not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). If the claimant cannot make an
adjustment to other work, the Commissioner finds the claimant
disabled. Id. At Step Five, even though the
burden of production shifts to the Commissioner, the
burden of persuasion to prove disability remains on
the claimant. Hensley, 829 F.3d at 932.
The ALJ's Decision and the Appeal Council's
Step One, the ALJ found Fellner met the insured status
requirements on January 1, 2015, and remained on that status
through the period of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 15).
Fellner had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
“the post-2014 period.” (Tr. 15). At Step Two,
the ALJ found Fellner suffers from five severe medically
determinable impairments: (1) Fuchs' dystrophy; (2)
rheumatoid arthritis; (3) degenerative cervical disc disease;
(4) myofascial pain syndrome; and (5) obesity. (Tr. 15). At
Step Three, the ALJ concluded Fellner does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals
one of the presumptively disabling impairments listed in the
in beginning the analysis of Step Four, the ALJ ...