United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
SHARISSE A. THURSTON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE
Sharisse Thurston filed a complaint appealing from an
administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) decision
denying supplemental security income (“SSI”)
benefits. (Docket 1). Defendant denies plaintiff is entitled
to benefits. (Docket 10). The court issued a briefing
schedule requiring the parties to file a joint statement of
material facts (“JSMF”). (Docket 12). The parties
filed their JSMF. (Docket 17). The parties also filed a joint
statement of disputed material facts (“JSDMF”).
(Docket 18). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's
motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket
21) is granted.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Commissioner does not dispute the accuracy of the facts
contained in the JSDMF, but only challenges the relevance of
those facts. (Docket 18 at p. 1). The parties' JSMF
(Docket 17) and JSDMF (Docket 18) are incorporated by
reference. Further recitation of salient facts is
incorporated in the discussion section of this order.
January 24, 2012, Ms. Thurston filed an application for SSI
benefits alleging an onset of disability date of September
21, 2009. (Docket 17 ¶ 4). On September 20, 2013, the
ALJ issued a decision finding Ms. Thurston was not disabled.
Id. ¶ 16; see also Administrative
Record at pp. 8-23 (hereinafter “AR at p. ___”).
On February 11, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Ms.
Thurston's request for review and affirmed the ALJ's
decision. (Docket 17 ¶ 18). The ALJ's decision
constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration. It is from this decision
which Ms. Thurston timely appeals.
issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of
September 20, 2013, that Ms. Thurston was not “under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since
October 4, 2011, [through September 20, 2013]” is
supported by the substantial evidence in the record as a
whole. (AR at p. 22) (bold omitted); see also Howard v.
Massanari, 255 F.3d 577, 580 (8th Cir. 2001) (“By
statute, the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security
as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall
be conclusive.”) (internal quotation marks and brackets
omitted) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
Commissioner's findings must be upheld if they are
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Choate v. Barnhart, 457
F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006); Howard, 255 F.3d at
580. The court reviews the Commissioner's decision to
determine if an error of law was committed. Smith v.
Sullivan, 982 F.2d 308, 311 (8th Cir. 1992).
“Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but
is enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to
support the Commissioner's conclusion.” Cox v.
Barnhart, 471 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted).
review of a decision to deny benefits is “more than an
examination of the record for the existence of substantial
evidence in support of the Commissioner's decision . . .
[the court must also] take into account whatever in the
record fairly detracts from that decision.” Reed v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Haley v. Massanari, 258 F.3d 742, 747 (8th Cir.
not the role of the court to re-weigh the evidence and, even
if this court would decide the case differently, it cannot
reverse the Commissioner's decision if that decision is
supported by good reason and is based on substantial
evidence. Guilliams v. Barnhart, 393 F.3d 798, 801
(8th Cir. 2005). A reviewing court may not reverse the
Commissioner's decision “ ‘merely because
substantial evidence would have supported an opposite
decision.' ” Reed, 399 F.3d at 920
(quoting Shannon v. Chater, 54 F.3d 484, 486 (8th
Cir. 1995)). Issues of law are reviewed de novo with
deference given to the Commissioner's construction of the
Social Security Act. See Smith, 982 F.2d at 311.
Social Security Administration established a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining whether an
individual is disabled and entitled to SSI benefits under
Title XVI. 20 CFR § 416.920(a). If the ALJ determines a
claimant is not disabled at any step of the process, the
evaluation does not proceed to the next step as the claimant
is not disabled. Id. The five-step sequential
evaluation process is:
(1) whether the claimant is presently engaged in a
“substantial gainful activity”; (2) whether the
claimant has a severe impairment-one that significantly
limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to
perform basic work activities; (3) whether the claimant has
an impairment that meets or equals a presumptively disabling
impairment listed in the regulations (if so, the claimant is
disabled without regard to age, education, and work
experience); (4) whether the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform . . . past relevant work; and
(5) if the claimant cannot perform the past work, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to prove there are other jobs in
the national economy the claimant can perform.
Baker v. Apfel, 159 F.3d 1140, 1143-44 (8th Cir.
1998). See also Boyd v. Sullivan, 960 F.2d
733, 735 (8th Cir. 1992) (the criteria under 20 CFR §
416.920 are the same under 20 CFR § 404.1520 for
disability insurance benefits). The ALJ applied the five-step
sequential evaluation required by the Social Security
Administration regulations. (AR at pp. 8-10; see
also Docket 17 ¶ 262).