United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE.
Christine Christofferson filed a complaint appealing the
final decision of Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration, finding plaintiff 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). The parties filed
their JSMF. (Docket 14). For the reasons stated below,
plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the
Commissioner (Docket 15) is granted and defendant's
motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner (Docket 17)
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties' JSMF (Docket 14) 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”) alleging an onset of disability
date of March 28, 2013. Id. ¶ 1. An
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued a
decision finding plaintiff was not disabled. Id.
¶ 3; see also Administrative Record at pp.
138-50 (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 14 ¶ 6). 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. Christofferson was not “under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from March
28, 2013, [through April 24, 2015]” is supported by the
substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (AR at p. 150)
(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 DIB benefits under
Title II. 20 CFR § 404.1520(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 ALJ applied the five-step sequential
evaluation required by the Social Security Administration
regulations. (AR at pp. 139-40; see also Docket 14
one, the ALJ determined plaintiff had “not [been]
engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 28, 2013,
the alleged onset date.” (AR at p. 140).
the second step, [the agency] consider[s] the medical
severity of your impairment(s).” 20 CFR §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). “It is the claimant's burden to
establish that [her] impairment or combination of impairments
are severe.” Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705,
707 (8th Cir. 2007). A severe impairment is defined as one
which significantly limits a physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities. 20 CFR § 404.1521. An impairment
is not severe, however, if it “amounts to only a slight
abnormality that would not significantly limit the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” Kirby, 500 F.3d at 707. “If
the impairment would have no more than a minimal effect on
the claimant's ability to work, then it does not satisfy
the requirement of step two.” Id. (citation
omitted). Additionally, the impairment must have lasted at
least twelve months or be expected to result in death.
See 20 CFR § 404.1509.
found Ms. Christofferson suffered from “the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
and thoracic spine, osteoarthritis of the left knee, right
ankle degenerative changes, and obesity.” (Docket 14
¶ 180). Ms. Christofferson challenges this finding.
(Docket 16 at pp. 16-20).
Christofferson asserts the ALJ failed to address the
following impairments and to find them severe:
Curvature of the spine;
Spinal central canal stenosis;
Calcaneal spurs bilaterally, and chronic plantar
Pedicle fractures at L 4 [and] L 5;
Right knee degenerative disease;
Degenerative arthritis and impingement of the left hip with
marked weakness of hip flexors;
Painful hand with mild to moderate degenerative joint disease
in both hands, also with numbness and weakness treated with a
Weakness and atrophy of scapular girdle and shoulders;
Chronic pain, or chronic pain syndrome; and
Sjogren's, or “sicca, ” autoimmune
Id. at p. 17. Plaintiff identifies these medical
conditions in her argument, including the diagnoses, medical
treatment and her response to those treatments. Id.
at pp. 3-12. But, plaintiff fails to point to any medical
record which asserts any one or ...