United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
JUSTIN R. SEXTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE.
January 25, 2016, plaintiff Justin R. Sexton filed a
complaint appealing the final decision of Nancy A. Berryhill,
acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
finding him not disabled. (Docket 1). Defendant denies
plaintiff is entitled to benefits. (Docket 9). The court
issued a briefing schedule requiring the parties to file a
joint statement of material facts (“JSMF”).
(Docket 11). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's
motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket
13) is granted.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties' JSMF (Docket 12) is incorporated by reference.
Further recitation of salient facts is incorporated in the
discussion section of this order.
March 12, 2012, Mr. Sexton filed an application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits
alleging an onset of disability date of July 31, 2003.
(Docket 12 ¶ 2). On June 5, 2014, the administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision finding Mr.
Sexton was not disabled. Id. ¶ 8; see
also Administrative Record at pp. 13-23 (hereinafter
“AR at p.___ ”). On November 30, 2015, the
Appeals Council denied Mr. Sexton's request for review
and affirmed the ALJ's decision. (Docket 12 ¶ 9).
The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. It is
from this decision which Mr. Sexton timely appeals.
issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of
June 5, 2014, that Mr. Sexton was not “under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since
March 24, 2010, [through June 5, 2014]” is supported by
the substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (AR at pp.
22-23) (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.
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. 13-23; see also Docket 12