United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Northern Division
CHARLES B. KORNMANN United States District Judge
brought this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial
review of the final decision denying plaintiffs claim for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act. This is plaintiffs third
claim for disability benefits, and the second time that she
has requested judicial review of the denial of her disability
benefits. This Court upholds the Commissioner's decision
to deny plaintiff benefits as the decision is supported by
substantial evidence on the record as a whole.
born in 1966, arrived in Aberdeen, South Dakota, from Vietnam
in 1992. She worked in and around Aberdeen from 1992 through
1998 and completed degrees from Northern State University and
the University of Maryland (online). Plaintiff later pursued
a PhD program in Florida at Nova Southeastern University and
worked at the university from 2001 to 2002. Plaintiff was
dismissed from the PhD program for what she states were false
claims of plagiarism. Plaintiff moved to California in 2005
but states that she returned to Aberdeen after her work hours
were reduced, although the record does not indicate that
plaintiff worked in California. This Court notes that during
plaintiffs work history, she has never earned more than $ 10,
000 per year, and typically significantly less.
previously filed for disability benefits in 2004 and 2008.
Both claims were denied, and plaintiff ultimately requested
judicial review of the denial of her 2008 claim. This Court
upheld the denial of plaintiff's benefits in that claim.
Nguyen v. Colvin, 2014 WL1053033 (D.S.D. 2014).
Plaintiff filed the current claim for SSI on March 26, 2014
for disability stemming from "severe
osteoarthritis." Plaintiffs claim was denied by the
Social Security Administration on September 5, 2014 and
again, upon reconsideration, on December 5, 2014, on the
There is no indication of nerve or muscle damage which would
result in severe weakness or loss of function. There is no
indication of joint damage which would result in severe
weakness or loss of function. Exam and medical evidence
revealed normal range of motion of joints. XRays [sic] of
knees, hips and lumbar spine did not reveal a severe
impairment. The medical evidence reviewed does not reveal
that your condition causes marked and severe functional
limitations that prevents [sic] you from doing all types of
work. The reports do not show any other condition that would
severely limit the ability to work.
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and
ALJ Denzel Busick reaffirmed the denial of plaintiff s claim
for benefits on May 3, 2016. Plaintiff then filed a request
for review by the Appeals Council on June 27, 2016, which
adopted the ALJ's denial of plaintiff s application for
benefits on June 23, 2017. Plaintiff has thus exhausted
administrative review of her claim.
August 18, 2017, plaintiff filed the current request for
judicial review before this Court, claiming that (1) the
ALJ's decision contains errors of law, because the ALJ
refused to compel plaintiffs interrogatories of her
physicians, and that (2) the ALJ's decision is not based
upon substantial evidence because it relies upon the
"malicious report" of plaintiff s treating
physician, Dr. Steven Redmond, which plaintiff states is
based on "Dr. Redmond's total lie of no degenerative
disease at all." Plaintiff supports her disagreement
with the Social Security Administration's disability
determination largely via self-diagnosis of ailments that are
not corroborated by medical opinion contained in the record:
including that plaintiff has macular degeneration, that her
diagnosis of a vestibular disorder is the result of brain
damage, and that the impairment to her spine, which plaintiff
characterizes as spinal arachnoiditis, requires surgery.
response to plaintiffs appeal for judicial review, defendants
request that the Court uphold the Commissioner's
disability determination, stating that (1) substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's findings, (2) the ALJ
properly evaluated the opinions of plaintiff s treating
physician, and (3) substantial evidence supported the
ALJ's determination of plaintiffs credibility. Noting
both the similarity of the issues in the current request for
review to those raised in plaintiffs previous claim before
this Court and that the new evidence submitted by plaintiff
continues to fail to support her claims, this Court upholds
the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiffs claim for
I. Standard of Review
reviewing a disability benefits determination must
"neither consider a claim de novo, nor abdicate is
function to carefully analyze the entire record."
Mittlestedt v. Apfel. 204 F.3d 847, 851 (8th Cir.
2000). Rather, the reviewing court must consider both
evidence that detracts froni the Commissioner's decision
along with evidence that supports it. Minor v.
Astrue, 574 F.3d 625, 627 (8th Cir. 2009). Such review
"is more than a search of the record for evidence
supporting the [Commissioner's] findings" and
"requires a scrutinizing analysis, not merely a
'rubber stamp' of the [Commissioner's]
action." Scott ex rel. Scott v. Astrue. 529
F.3d 818, 821 (8th Cir. 2008) (internal citations omitted). A
Commissioner's findings must be upheld so long as they
are ' supported by substantial evidence in the record as
a whole..42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Choate v, Bamhart,
457 F.3d 865, 869 (8th Cir. 2006); Howard v.
Massanari. 255 F.3d 577, 580 (8th Cir. 2001).
Substantial evidence is that which "a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support the Commissioner's
conclusion." Klug v. Weinberger. 514 F.2d 423,
425 (8th Cir. 1975) (internal citations omitted), The
reviewing court may not reverse a Commissioner's decision
"merely because substantial evidence would have
supported an opposite decision." Reed v.
Bamhart, 399 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 2005). Instead,
"[i]f, after reviewing the record, the court find it is
possible to draw two inconsistent positions from the evidence
and one of those positions represents the [ALJ's]
findings, the court must affirm the [ALJ's]
decision." Pcarsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d
.1211, 1217 (8th Cir. 2001).
reviewing court must also review the ALJ's decision to
determine if the ALJ committed an error of law or applied an
erroneous legal standard. Smith v. Sullivan, 982
F.2d 308, 311 (8th Cir. 1992); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Deference is given to the Commissioner's construction of
the Social Security Act. Smith v. Sullivan, 982 F.2d
at 311. However, the Commissioner's conclusions of law
are persuasive, not binding, on the reviewing court. Id.;
see also Miller v. Colvin, 114 F.Supp.3d 741. 760
The Five Step Procedure for Disability Determination
Security law establishes a mandatory five step procedure for
determining whether an applicant is disabled and entitled to
SSI benefits under Title XVI. Smith v. Shalala, 987
F.2d 1371, 1373 (8th Cir. 1993); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.
The five-step sequential evaluation process may be summarized
(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 ...