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 Carmen Norwood's applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401, et seq. and Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et
seq. Norwood 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 Norwood is not disabled
because her symptoms were not supported by the medical
evidence available. Norwood then filed a request for review
of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council of the
Social Security Administration. The Appeals Council denied
review. Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.981, 416.1481. Norwood now seeks review by
this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
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),
1382c(a)(3)(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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential process when
evaluating whether the claimant has a disability. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(1), 416.920(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. §§
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), 416.920(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), 416.920(c), 416.920a(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), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
416.945(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), 416.945(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),
416.945(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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
One, the ALJ found Norwood met the insured status
requirements through December 31, 2016, and had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2011. (Tr.
17). At Step Two, the ALJ found Norwood suffers from seven
medically determinable impairments: (1) post-traumatic stress
disorder; (2) depression; (3) borderline intellectual
functioning; (4) status post carpal tunnel release surgery;
(5) herniated disc at ¶ 5-S1 effacing the S1 nerve
roots; (6) morbid obesity; and (7) intermittent migraine
headaches. (Tr. 17). At Step Three, the ALJ concluded Norwood
does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or equals one of the presumptively disabling
impairments listed in the regulations. (Tr.18-21).
in beginning the analysis of Step Four, the ALJ determined