United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
JEFFREY L. VIKEN CHIEF JUDGE
Cherry Clifford 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 17). The court issued a briefing schedule
requiring the parties to file a joint statement of material
facts (“JSMF”). (Docket 14). The parties filed
their JSMF. (Docket 15). For the reasons stated below,
plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the
Commissioner (Docket 16) is denied.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties' JSMF (Docket 15) is incorporated by reference.
Further recitation of salient facts is incorporated in the
discussion section of this order.
August 12, 2013, Ms. Clifford filed an application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II. Id. ¶ 1. She subsequently filed for
supplemental social security income (“SSI”)
benefits under Title XVI. Id. In both applications,
Ms. Clifford alleges an onset of disability date of January
15, 2013. Id. Her last insured date for DIB purposes
was March 31, 2014. Id. On June 23, 2015, the ALJ
issued a decision finding Ms. Clifford was not disabled.
Id. ¶ 4; see also Administrative
Record at pp. 14-25 (hereinafter “AR at p. __”).
The Appeals Council denied Ms. Clifford's request for
review and affirmed the ALJ's decision. (Docket 15 ¶
10). The ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. It is
from this decision which Ms. Clifford timely appeals.
issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of
June 23, 2015, that Ms. Clifford was not “under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from
January 15, 2013, [through June 23, 2015]” is supported
by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. (AR at p.
25) (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 DI 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). The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation
required by the Social Security Administration regulations.
(AR at pp. 18-19).
one, the ALJ determined Ms. Clifford had “not [been]
engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 15,
2013, the alleged onset date.” Id. at p. 18
two, the ALJ must decide whether the claimant has a medically
determinable impairment that is severe or a combination of
impairments that are severe. 20 CFR § 404.1520(c). A
medically determinable impairment can only be established by
an acceptable medical source. 20 CFR § 404.1513(a).
Accepted medical sources include, among others, licensed
physicians. Id. “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).
regulations describe “severe impairment” in the
negative. “An impairment or combination of impairments
is not severe if it does not significantly limit your
physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” 20 CFR § 404.1521(a). 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. Thus, a
severe impairment is one which significantly limits a
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
identified Ms. Clifford suffered from the following severe
impairment: “medial compartment degenerative change of
the left knee, neuritis of the left leg, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease (COPD), hypertension, and diverticulosis
with acute episodes of diverticulitis . . . .” (Docket
15 ¶ 6). Ms. Clifford does not challenge this finding.
(Dockets 16 & 18).