United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division
WOLLMANN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
October 31, 2017, plaintiff Erica Hughes 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 materials facts (“JSMF”).
(Docket 9). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's
motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket
19) is granted.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
parties' JSMF (Docket 14) is incorporated by reference.
Further recitation of the salient facts is incorporated in
the discussion section of this order.
April 21, 2014, Ms. Hughes filed an application for Social
Security disability benefits alleging an onset of disability
date of August 30, 2009. (Docket 14 at ¶ 1). On December
15, 2016, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”
issued a decision finding Ms. Hughes was not disabled.
Id. ¶ 3; see also Administrative Record at pp.
12-23 (hereinafter “AR at p. ”). On October 18,
2017, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Hughes' request for
review and affirmed the ALJ's decision. (Docket 14 ¶
3; AR 1-4). The ALJ's decision constitutes the final
decision of the Commission of the Social Security
Administration. It is from this decision which Ms. Hughes
issue before the court is whether the ALJ's decision of
December 15, 2016, that Ms. Hughes was not “under a
disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since
August 30, 2009, through [December 15, 2016]” is
supported by the substantial evidence in the record as a
whole. (AR at 12-23); 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, 901
(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 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.
one, the ALJ determined claimant “had not [been]
engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 30,
2009, the alleged ...