United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)
for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Andrew
M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying the application of
Plaintiff Danielle Kicker (“Plaintiff”) for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq., and for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et seq. (the
“Act”). The parties consented to the jurisdiction
of the undersigned magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). (Doc. 8). Because I find the decision denying
benefits was not supported by substantial evidence, I will
reverse the Commissioner’s denial of Plaintiff’s
application and remand the case for further proceedings.
March 2015, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging an
inability to work since January 11, 2015. (Tr. 182-97). Her
applications were initially denied. (Tr. 118-24). On August
27, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 125-26). A
hearing was held before the ALJ on May 1, 2017. (Tr. 45-97).
On the same day, Plaintiff amended her alleged disability
onset date to August 5, 2015. (Tr. 225). On October 31, 2017,
the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Tr. 14-39). On
October 31, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of
Hearing Decision with Defendant agency’s Appeals
Council. (Tr. 181). On May 9, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff’s Request for Review. (Tr. 2-7). The
decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
1, 2017, Plaintiff testified at the hearing before the ALJ as
follows. Plaintiff was born on October 17, 1977. (Tr. 51).
She drives on a daily basis, but does not drive long
distances, because her feet will fall asleep. (Tr. 51). She
has three children, aged 6, 10, and 18, and she lives with
her mother, her grandmother, and her two younger children.
(Tr. 52). She has completed some beauty college. (Tr. 53).
Her most recent job was verifying applications for Obamacare.
(Tr. 53). She stopped working there in August 2015, when she
went out for back surgery, and she was on short-term
disability in late 2015. (Tr. 54). She never returned to work
after her back surgery. (Tr. 55). Plaintiff has also worked
in the past as a preschool teacher, a manager in retail, and
a pharmacy tech. (Tr. 77-80).
testified that the conditions that keep her from going back
to work are her feet, her hands, and her back. (Tr. 55). Her
pain in her right foot is at a six or seven on a scale of one
to ten, and it has been going on since late 2016. (Tr. 56).
Plaintiff also testified that her hands going to sleep has
been happening for about six months. (Tr. 57). With regard to
her back, Plaintiff testified that since her September 2015
back surgery, she has back pain, it “feels like
everything is out of order again, ” she sometimes
cannot stand up straight, and she sometimes cannot sit or
stand too long. (Tr. 57-58). She testified that she had some
small improvement in her pain after surgery, but by the time
of the hearing it was worse than it was before. (Tr. 58-59).
Before surgery, she estimated her pain level to be about a
five or six. (Tr. 58). At the time of the hearing, her back
pain was a six to a seven. (Tr. 59). Her back pain is
worsened by being on her feet and relieved by sitting down
with her feet up on a massaging chair. (Tr. 60).
sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Aurora, every three months. (Tr.
60-61). Plaintiff takes medications including lithium,
hydroxyzine, carbamazepine, lorazepam, and prasozine for
nightmares. (Tr. 64-65). She testified that she does not have
any side effects from her medications. (Tr. 65). Plaintiff
testified that her memory is “pretty good, ” her
concentration is fair, and she remembers to take her
medications each day. (Tr. 66). She gets nervous around
crowds of people but gets along pretty well with family and
friends. (Tr. 66).
regard to the medical records, the Court accepts the facts as
reflected in the parties’ respective statements of
facts. The Court will cite to specific portions of the record
as needed in the discussion below.
Standard for Determining Disability Under the Act
eligible for benefits under the Social Security Act, a
claimant must prove he or she is disabled. Pearsall v.
Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001);
Baker v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs.,
955 F.2d 552, 555 (8th Cir. 1992). The 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A);
1382c(a)(3)(A); see also Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d
734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The impairment must be “of
such severity that he [or she] is not only unable to do his
[or her] previous work but cannot, considering his [or her]
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 [or she] lives, or whether a
specific job vacancy exists for him [or her], or whether he
[or she] would be hired if he [or she] applied for
work.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A);
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
engages in a five-step evaluation process. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a); see also McCoy v.
Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 611 (8th Cir. 2011) (discussing
the five-step process). At Step One, the Commissioner
determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in
“substantial gainful activity”; if so, then the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i); McCoy, 648 F.3d
at 611. At Step Two, the Commissioner determines whether the
claimant has a severe impairment, which is “any
impairment or combination of impairments which significantly
limits [the claimant’s] physical or mental ability to
do basic work activities”; if the claimant does not
have a severe impairment, the claimant is not disabled. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c),
416.920(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(c); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
611. At Step Three, the Commissioner evaluates whether the
claimant’s impairment meets or equals one of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (the “listings”). 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii); McCoy, 648
F.3d at 611. If the claimant has such an impairment, the
Commissioner will find the claimant disabled; if not, the
Commissioner proceeds with the rest of the five-step process.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d);
McCoy, 648 F.3d at 611.
to Step Four, the Commissioner must assess the
claimant’s “residual functional capacity”
(“RFC”), which is “the most a claimant can
do despite [his or her] limitations.” Moore v.
Astrue, 572 F.3d 520, 523 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(1). At Step
Four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant can
return to his or her past relevant work, by comparing the
claimant’s RFC with the physical and mental demands of
the claimant’s past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 404.1520(f),
416.920(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(f); McCoy, 648 F.3d at
611. If the claimant can perform his or her past relevant
work, the claimant is not disabled; if the claimant cannot,
the analysis proceeds to the next step. Id. At Step
Five, the Commissioner considers the claimant’s RFC,
age, education, and work experience to determine whether the
claimant can make an adjustment to other work in the national
economy; if the claimant cannot make an adjustment to other
work, the claimant will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 404.1520(g), 404.1560(c)(2),
416.920(a)(4)(v), 416.920(g), 416.960(c)(2); McCoy,
648 F.3d at 611.
Step Four, the burden remains with the claimant to prove that
he is disabled. Moore, 572 F.3d at 523. At Step
Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to establish
that, given the claimant’s RFC, age, education, and
work experience, there are a significant number of other jobs
in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
Id.; Brock ...