United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. ROSS 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 Plaintiff Peter Klopfenstein's application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. and
supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq.
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income benefits on June 11, 2015, alleging
disability as of November 1, 2011 due to multi-level
degenerative disc disease, left sciatica, lumbago, complex
regional pain syndrome, and social anxiety disorder. After
his application was denied at the initial administrative
level, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative
law judge ("ALJ"). Following a hearing on July 31,
2017, the ALJ issued a written decision on October 11, 2017,
denying Plaintiffs application. Plaintiffs request for review
by the Appeals Council was denied on May 9, 2108. Thus, the
decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103,
Court adopts Plaintiffs Statement of Incontroverted Facts
(Doc. No. 17-1) to the extent they are admitted by the
Commissioner (Doc. No. 22-1). The Court also adopts
Defendant's Statement of Additional Facts. (Doc. No.
22-2). Together, these statements provide a fair and accurate
description of the relevant record before the Court.
Additional specific facts will be discussed as necessary to
address the parties' arguments.
Court's role on judicial review is to determine whether
the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole. Johnson v. Astrue, 628
F.3d 991, 992 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less
than a preponderance, but enough that a reasonable mind would
accept it as adequate to support the Commissioner's
conclusion. Chismarich v. Berryhill, 888 F.3d 978,
979 (8th Cir. 2018) (per curiam). The Court may not reverse
merely because substantial evidence exists in the record that
would support a contrary outcome or because the court would
have decided the case differently. Chaney v. Colvin,
812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016). A reviewing court must
consider evidence that both supports and detracts from the
ALJ's decision. Id. If it is possible to draw
two inconsistent positions from the evidence and one of those
positions represents the Commissioner's findings, the
court must affirm the decision of the Commissioner. Id- hi
other words, a court should "disturb the ALJ's
decision only if it falls outside the available zone of
choice." Papesh v. Colvin, 786 F.3d 1126, 1131
(8th Cir. 2015). A decision does not fall outside that zone
simply because the reviewing court might have reached a
different conclusion had it been the finder of fact in the
first instance. Id. The Court defers heavily to the
findings and conclusions of the Social Security
Administration. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738
(8th Cir. 2010).
determine whether the ALJ's final decision is supported
by substantial evidence, the Court is required to review the
administrative record as a whole and to consider:
(1) The findings of credibility made by the ALJ;
(2) The education, background, work history, and age of the
(3) The medical evidence given by the claimant's treating
(4) The subjective complaints of pain and description of the
claimant's physical activity and impairment;
(5) The corroboration by third parties of the claimant's
(6) The testimony of vocational experts based upon prior
hypothetical questions which fairly set forth the
claimant's physical impairment; and
(7) The testimony of consulting physicians.
Brand v. Sec'y of Dept. of Health. Educ. &
Welfare, 623 F.2d 523, 527 (8th Cir. 1980).
Social Security Act defines as disabled a person who is
"unable 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. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). The impairment must be "of such severity
that [the claimant] 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, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Commissioner has established a five-step process for
determining whether a person is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(a), 404.1520(a). "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.
Bamhart, 390 F.3d 584, 590-91 (8th Cir. 2004)).
the claimant must not be engaged in "substantial gainful
activity" ("SGA"). 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(a), 404.1520(a). Second, the claimant must have a
"severe impairment," defined as "any
impairment or combination of impairments which significantly
limits [claimant's] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. §§
416.920(c), 404.1520(c). "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." Pa ...