United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Northern Division
JAKE A. BEATTY, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
CRITES-LEONI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Jake Beatty brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's denial of his application
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under
Title II of the Social Security Act.
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that,
despite Beatty's severe impairments, he was not disabled
as he had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform work existing in significant
numbers in the national economy through his date last
matter is pending before the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge, with consent of the parties, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). A summary of the entire record is
presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here
only to the extent necessary.
following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner will be
filed his application for benefits on December 10, 2014,
claiming that he became unable to work on December 20, 2007.
(Tr. 132-38.) In his Disability Report, Beatty alleged
disability due to lower back pain and a pinched nerve in his
shoulder. (Tr. 164.) Beatty was 43 years of age at the time
of his alleged onset of disability. His application was
denied initially. (Tr. 71-74.) Beatty's claim was denied
by an ALJ on March 9, 2017, following a hearing. (Tr. 15-28.)
On February 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Beatty's
claim for review. (Tr. 1-6.) Thus, the decision of the ALJ
stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.
action, Beatty first argues that the ALJ “failed to
fully and fairly develop the record.” (Doc. 17 at 3.)
He next argues that the ALJ “failed to properly
consider the Listings.” Id. at 7.
The ALJ's Determination
first found that Beatty last met the insured status
requirements of the Act on December 31, 2012. (Tr. 17.) He
did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the
period from his alleged onset date of December 20, 2007
through his date last insured of December 31, 2012.
Id. In addition, the ALJ concluded that Beatty had
the following severe impairments through his date last
insured: degenerative disc disease (“DDD”) and
spondylolisthesis of the lumbar spine; spondylosis of the
thoracic and cervical spine; and borderline intellectual
functioning (“BIF”). Id. The ALJ found
that, through the date last insured, Beatty did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (Tr. 18.)
Beatty's RFC, the ALJ stated:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except for the following
nonexertional limitations that reduce the claimant's
capacity for sedentary work: can no more than occasionally
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can no more than
occasionally climb ramps or stairs; can no more than
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; can no
more than occasionally be exposed to vibration; limited to
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; limited to simple
work-related decisions; and can have no more than occasional
interactions with supervisors, co-workers, and the public.
found that Beatty was unable to perform any past relevant
work through the date last insured, but was capable of
performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, such as lens inserter, patcher, and
polisher. (Tr. 27-28.) The ALJ therefore concluded that
Beatty was not under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, at any time from December 20, 2007, the alleged
onset date, through December 31, 2012, the date last insured.
ALJ's final decision reads as follows:
Based on the application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits protectively filed on December
10, 2014, the claimant was not disabled under sections 216(i)
and 223(d) of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2012, the last date insured.
A. Standard of Review
decision of the Commissioner must be affirmed 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 of the evidence, 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). This “substantial evidence test, ”
however, is “more than a mere search of the record for
evidence supporting the Commissioner's findings.”
Coleman v. Astrue, 498 F.3d 767, 770 (8th Cir. 2007)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“Substantial evidence on the record as a whole . . .
requires a more scrutinizing analysis.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole,
the Court must review the entire administrative record and
1. The credibility findings made by the ALJ.
2. The plaintiff's vocational factors.
3. The medical evidence from treating and consulting
4. The plaintiff's subjective complaints relating to
exertional and non-exertional activities and impairments.
5. Any corroboration by third parties of the plaintiff's
6. The testimony of vocational experts when required which is
based upon a proper hypothetical question which sets forth
the claimant's impairment.
Stewart v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs.,
957 F.2d 581, 585-86 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal citations
omitted). The Court must also consider any evidence which
fairly detracts from the Commissioner's decision.
Coleman, 498 F.3d at 770; Warburton v.
Apfel, 188 F.3d 1047, 1050 (8th Cir. 1999). However,
even though two inconsistent conclusions may be drawn from
the evidence, the Commissioner's findings may still be
supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole.
Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir.
2001) (citing Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1068
(8th Cir. 2000)). “[I]f there is substantial evidence
on the record as a whole, we must affirm the administrative
decision, even if the record could also have supported an
opposite decision.” Weikert v. Sullivan, 977
F.2d 1249, 1252 (8th Cir. 1992) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted); see also Jones ex rel. Morris v.
Barnhart, 315 F.3d 974, 977 (8th Cir. 2003).
B. Determination of Disability
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 that 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); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905. A claimant has a
disability when the claimant is “not only unable to do
his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education
and work experience engage in any kind of substantial gainful
work which exists … in significant numbers in the
region where such individual lives or in several regions of
the country.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
determine whether a claimant has a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows
a five-step sequential evaluation process outlined in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; see Kirby v.
Astrue, 500 F.3d 705, 707 (8th Cir. 2007). First, the
Commissioner will consider a claimant's work activity. If
the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, then
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 perform
basic work activities.” Dixon v. Barnhart, 343
F.3d 602, 605 (8th Cir. 2003). “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,
500 F.3d at 707; see 20 C.F.R. §§
ability to do basic work activities is defined as “the
abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs.” 20
C.F.R. § 416.921(b). These abilities and aptitudes
include (1) physical functions such as walking, standing,
sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, or handling;
(2) capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking; (3)
understanding, reaching out, and remembering simple
instructions; (4) use of judgment; (5) responding
appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work
situations; and (6) dealing with changes in a routine work
setting. Id. § 416.921(b)(1)-(6); see Bowen
v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 141 (1987). “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
ability to work.” Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d
1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks
if the claimant has a severe impairment, then the
Commissioner will consider the medical severity of the
impairment. If the impairment meets or equals one of the
presumptively disabling impairments listed in the
regulations, then the claimant is considered disabled,
regardless of age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(d); see Kelley
v. Callahan, 133 F.3d 583, 588 (8th Cir. 1998).
if the claimant's impairment is severe, but it does not
meet or equal one of the presumptively disabling impairments,
then the Commissioner will assess the claimant's RFC to
determine the claimant's “ability to meet the
physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements” of
the claimant's past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.945(a)(4). “RFC is a medical
question defined wholly in terms of the claimant's
physical ability to perform exertional tasks or, in other
words, what the claimant can still do despite his or his
physical or mental limitations.” Lewis v.
Barnhart, 353 F.3d 642, 646 (8th Cir. 2003) (internal
quotation marks omitted); see 20 C.F.R. §
416.945(a)(1). The claimant is responsible for providing
evidence the Commissioner will use to make a finding as to
the claimant's RFC, but 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. §
416.945(a)(3). The Commissioner also will consider certain
non-medical evidence and other evidence listed in the
regulations. See id. If a claimant retains the RFC
to perform past relevant work, then the claimant is not
disabled. Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv).
if the claimant's RFC as determined in Step Four will not
allow the claimant to perform past relevant work, then the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there is
other work that the claimant can do, given the claimant's
RFC as determined at Step Four, and his age, education, and
work experience. See Bladow v. Apfel, 205 F.3d 356,
358-59 n. 5 (8th Cir. 2000). The Commissioner must prove not
only that the claimant's RFC will allow the claimant to
make an adjustment to other work, but also that the other
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584, 591 (8th
Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy, then the
Commissioner will find the claimant is not disabled. If the
claimant cannot make an adjustment to other work, then the
Commissioner will find that the claimant is disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). At Step Five, even though the
burden of production shifts to the Commissioner, the burden
of persuasion to prove disability remains on the claimant.
Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir.
evaluation process for mental impairments is set forth in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a, 416.920a. The first step
requires the Commissioner to “record the pertinent
signs, symptoms, findings, functional limitations, and
effects of treatment” in the case record to assist in
the determination of whether a mental impairment exists.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(b)(1),
416.920a(b)(1). If it is determined that a mental impairment
exists, the Commissioner must indicate whether medical
findings “especially relevant to the ability to work
are present or absent.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520a(b)(2), 416.920a(b)(2). The Commissioner must then
rate the degree of functional loss resulting from the
impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520a(b)(3), 416.920a(b)(3). Functional loss is rated on
a scale that ranges from no limitation to a level of severity
which is incompatible with the ability to perform
work-related activities. See Id. Next, the
Commissioner must determine the severity of the impairment
based on those ratings. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520a(c), 416.920a(c). If the impairment is severe, the
Commissioner must determine if it meets or equals a listed
mental disorder. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520a(c)(2), 416.920a(c)(2). This is completed by
comparing the presence of medical findings and the rating of
functional loss against the paragraph A and B criteria of the
Listing of the appropriate mental disorders. See Id.
If there is a severe impairment, but the impairment does not
meet or equal the listings, then the Commissioner must
prepare an RFC assessment. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520a(c)(3), 416.920a(c)(3).