United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
JOYCE M. WHEELER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE.
Joyce M. Wheeler filed a complaint appealing the final
decision of Nancy A. Berryhill,  the acting Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration, finding her not disabled.
(Docket 1). Defendant denies plaintiff is entitled to
benefits. (Docket 7). The court issued a briefing schedule
requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material
facts (“JSMF”). (Docket 9). For the reasons
stated below, plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision
of the Commissioner (Docket 11) is granted.
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.
filed an application for social security disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) alleging an onset of disability date of
May 15, 2011. (Docket 10 ¶¶ 1, 4). The
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued a
decision finding plaintiff was not disabled. Id.
¶¶ 4-17; see also Administrative Record at
pp. 46-54 (hereinafter “AR at p. ”). Plaintiff
requested review of the ALJ's decision and the Appeals
Council denied her request for review and affirmed the
ALJ's decision. (Docket 10 ¶¶ 18-19). The
ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. It is
from this decision which plaintiff timely appeals.
issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision that
Ms. Wheeler was not “under a disability, as defined in
the Social Security Act, since May 15, 2011, [through
February 6, 2015]” is supported by the substantial
evidence in the record as a whole. (AR at p. 53) (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. 46-54; see also Docket 10