United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
PATTY R. TURNER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review
of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision
denying the application of Patty Turner ("Turner")
for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act.
2, 2014, Turner filed an application for SSI, alleging
disability beginning on May 2, 2013. (Tr. 18, 213-27,
254-55). Turner alleged she became disabled because of a torn
tendon in her left ankle, Graves' disease, muscle spasms,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"),
depression, and anxiety attacks. (Tr. 254-55). Turner's
claim was initially denied on July 24, 2014. (Tr. 125).
Turner's request for a hearing was granted and hearings
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) were held on March
10, 2016 and November 10, 2016. (Tr. 41-102;
132-33). The ALJ issued a written decision on March
24, 2017, upholding the denial of benefits. (Tr. 18-33). The
Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied
Turner's request for review of the ALJ's decision
(Tr. 1-3). The decision of the ALJ thus stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530
U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
filed this appeal on April 16, 2018. (ECF No. 1). On July 27,
2018, Turner filed a Brief in Support of her Complaint. (ECF
No. 10). The Commissioner filed a Brief in Support of the
Answer on November 1, 2018. (ECF No. 19). Turner filed a
Reply to Defendant's Brief in Support of the Answer on
November 12, 2018. (ECF No. 20). The Commissioner filed a
Sur-Reply to Plaintiffs Reply to Defendant's Brief in
Support of the Answer on December 7, 2018. (ECF No. 26).
Decision of the ALJ
found that Turner had the following severe impairments:
posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), depression,
substance abuse (marijuana), obesity, Graves' disease,
and hyperthyroidism. (Tr. 20). The ALJ, however, determined
that Turner did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 21). The ALJ found that Turner had the
residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform
medium work, except simple, routine and repetitive tasks;
occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers and the
general public. The ALJ further found that Turner was capable
of tolerating routine workplace changes. (Tr. 22). In sum,
the ALJ determined that Hill was not disabled. (Tr. 33).
the Social Security Act, the Commissioner has established a
five-step process for determining whether a person is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1529.
'"If a claimant fails to meet the criteria at any
step in the evaluation of disability, the process ends and
the claimant is determined to be not disabled.'"
Goff v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 584,
590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)). In this sequential analysis, the
claimant first cannot be engaged in "substantial gainful
activity" to qualify for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(b), 404.1520(b). Second, the claimant
must have a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(c), 404.1520(c). The Social Security Act defines
"severe impairment" as "any impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits
[claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities ... ." Id. "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 or] her
ability to work." Page v. Astrue, 484 F.3d
1040, 1043 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Caviness v.
Massanari, 250 F.3d 603, 605 (8th Cir. 2001).
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment
which meets or equals one of the impairments listed in the
Regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 404.1520(d);
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the claimant has one of,
or the medical equivalent of, these impairments, then the
claimant is per se disabled without consideration of the
claimant's age, education, or work history. Id.
the impairment must prevent claimant from doing past relevant
work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(e),
404.1520(e). At this step, the burden rests with the claimant
to establish his RFC. Steed v. Astrue, 524 F.3d 872,
874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008); see also Eichelberger, 390
F.3d at 590-91; Masterson v. Barnhart, 363 F.3d 731,
737 (8th Cir. 2004). RFC is defined as what the claimant can
do despite his or her limitations, 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a), and includes an assessment of physical abilities
and mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(b)-(e). The
ALJ will review a claimant's RFC and the physical and
mental demands of the work the claimant has done in the past.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If it is found that the
claimant can still perform past relevant work, the claimant
will not be found to be disabled. Id.; 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform past
relevant work, the analysis proceeds to Step 5.
fifth and last step, the ALJ considers the claimant's
RFC, age, education, and work experience to see if the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 4l6.92O(a)(4)(v). If it is found that the claimant
cannot make an adjustment to other work, the claimant will be
found to be disabled. Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(g). At this step, the Commissioner bears the burden
to "prove, first that the claimant retains the RFC to
perform other kinds of work, and, second that other work
exists in substantial numbers in the national economy that
the claimant is able to perform." Goff, 421
F.3d at 790; Nevland v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 853, 857
(8th Cir. 2000). The Commissioner must prove this by
substantial evidence. Warner v. Heckler, 722 F.2d
428, 431 (8th Cir. 1983).
claimant satisfies all of the criteria of the five-step
sequential evaluation process, the ALJ will find the claimant
to be disabled. "The ultimate burden of persuasion to
prove disability, however, remains with the claimant."
Id.; see also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d
926, 931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153,
51155 (Aug. 26, 2003)).
Court reviews the decision of the ALJ to determine whether
the decision is supported by "substantial evidence"
in the record as a whole. See Smith v. Shalala, 31
F.3d 715, 717 (8th Cir. 1994). "Substantial evidence is
less than a preponderance but is enough that a reasonable
mind would find it adequate to support the Commissioner's
conclusion." Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d
1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002); see also Cox v. Astrue,495 F.3d 614, 617 (8th Cir. 2007). Therefore, even if a court
finds that there is a preponderance of the evidence against
the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's decision must be
affirmed if it is supported by substantial ...