United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
RICHARD W. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action under Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner denying the
application of Richard W. Edwards (“Plaintiff”)
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles
II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
401, et seq. and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381, et
seq. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of the
Complaint (Doc. 18) and Defendant has filed a brief in
support of the Answer (Doc. 23). The parties have consented
to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)
filed his application for DIB on December 19, 2014 and, on
May 13, 2015, was initially denied (Tr. 166-70, 243-44). On
July 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Tr. 171-72).
While awaiting his March 7, 2017 hearing date, Plaintiff
filed an application for SSI on February 5, 2016 (Tr.
274-81). His SSI application was consolidated with the prior
DIB application and, after a hearing, by decision dated July
18, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled (Tr. 90-103).
On April 4, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review (Tr. 1-6). As such, the
ALJ’s decision stands as the final decision of the
DECISION OF THE ALJ
determined that Plaintiff meets the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31,
2019, and that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since July 15, 2013, the alleged onset date
(Tr. 92). The ALJ found Plaintiff has the severe impairments
of cervical strain, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, and
post-traumatic stress disorder, but that no impairment or
combination of impairments met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 93). After considering the
entire record, the ALJ determined Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light
with the following limitations (Tr. 95). He can lift, carry,
push and pull 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds
frequently (Id.). He can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, and can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds
(Id.). He can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl (Id.). He can frequently handle with the left
(non-dominant) hand (Id.). He cannot perform work
involving hazardous machinery (Id.). He cannot do
work with more than frequent interactions with supervisors,
coworkers, and the general public (Id.). He is
limited to simple, routine, and repetitive work
(Id.). The ALJ found Plaintiff not capable of
performing any past relevant work but that other jobs exist
in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform including greeter, press operator, and assembler
(Tr. 102-03). Thus, the ALJ concluded that a finding of
“not disabled” was appropriate (Tr. 103).
Plaintiff appeals, arguing a lack of substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner’s decision.
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), citing Nguyen v. Chater, 75 F.3d 429, 430-31
(8th Cir. 1996)).
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).
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 the claimant from doing past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(f),
404.1520(f). The burden rests with the claimant at this
fourth step to establish his or her RFC. Steed v.
Astrue, 524 F.3d 872, 874 n.3 (8th Cir. 2008)
(“Through step four of this analysis, the claimant has
the burden of showing that she is disabled.”). 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).
the severe impairment must prevent the claimant from doing
any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g),
404.1520(g). At this fifth step of the sequential analysis,
the Commissioner has the burden of production to show
evidence of other jobs in the national economy that can be
performed by a person with the claimant’s RFC.
Steed, 524 F.3d at 874 n.3. If the claimant meets
these standards, the ALJ will find the claimant to be
disabled. “The ultimate burden of persuasion to prove
disability, however, remains with the claimant.”
Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065, 1069 n.5 (8th Cir.
2000). See also Harris v. Barnhart, 356 F.3d 926,
931 n.2 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51153, 51155
(Aug. 26, 2003)); Stormo v. Barnhart, 377 F.3d 801,
806 (8th Cir. 2004) (“The burden of persuasion to prove
disability and to demonstrate RFC remains on the claimant,
even when the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner
at step five.”). Even if a court finds that there is a
preponderance of the evidence against the ALJ’s
decision, the decision must be affirmed if it is supported by
substantial evidence. Clark v. Heckler, 733 F.2d 65,
68 (8th Cir. 1984). “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).
not the job of the district court to re-weigh the evidence or
review the factual record de novo. Id. Instead, the
district court must simply determine whether the quantity and
quality of evidence is enough so that a reasonable mind might
find it adequate to support the ALJ’s conclusion.
Davis v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 962, 966 (8th Cir. 2001)
(citing McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th
Cir. 2000)). Weighing the evidence is a function of the ALJ,
who is the fact-finder. Masterson v. Barnhart, 363
F.3d 731, 736 (8th Cir. 2004). Thus, an administrative
decision which is supported by substantial evidence is not
subject to reversal merely because substantial evidence may
also support an opposite conclusion or because the reviewing
court would have decided differently. Krogmeier, 294
F.3d at 1022.
appeal of the Commissioner’s decision, Plaintiff raises
three issues. First, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to
properly evaluate the opinion evidence (Doc. 18 at 3-12).
Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to determine
whether insomnia and fatigue would have affected
Plaintiff’s RFC assessment (Id. at 12-14).
Third, Plaintiff asserts that the Appeals Council failed to
properly consider new evidence submitted after the
ALJ’s decision (Id. at 14-16). For the
following reasons, the Court finds that the ALJ committed