United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
ERNEST B. SCHLEUNING, III, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE
Ernest B. Schleuning, III, filed a complaint appealing the
final decision of Nancy A. Berryhill,  the 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 9). The parties
filed their JSMF. (Docket 10). For the reasons stated below,
plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the
Commissioner (Docket 11) is granted and defendant's
motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 13)
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties' JSMF (Docket 10) is incorporated by reference.
Further recitation of salient facts is incorporated in the
discussion section of this order. On April 4, 2013, Mr.
Schleuning filed an application for supplemental social
security income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI,
alleging an onset of disability date of January 22, 2006.
(Docket 10 ¶ 1). On September 30, 2014, the ALJ issued a
decision finding Mr. Schleuning was not disabled.
Id. ¶ 11; see also Administrative
Record at pp. 16-26 (hereinafter “AR at p.___ ”).
The Appeals Council denied Mr. Schleuning's request for
review and affirmed the ALJ's decision. (Docket 10 ¶
13). The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. It is
from this decision which Mr. Schleuning timely appeals.
issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of
September 30, 2014, that Mr. Schleuning was not “under
a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any
time from January 22, 2006, the alleged onset date, through
December 31, 2011, the date last insured” is supported
by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (AR at p.
26) (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). The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation
required by the Social Security Administration regulations.
(AR at pp. 17-19).
one, the ALJ determined Mr. Schleuning had “not
performed substantial gainful activity since January 22,
2006, the alleged onset of ...