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King v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 21, 2019

CADERO KING, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN M. GERRARD CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the denial, initially and upon reconsideration, of plaintiff Cadero King's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. and supplemental social security income benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq.[2] The Court has considered the parties' filings and the administrative record. The Court finds that the record supports the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits, and will affirm that decision.

         BACKGROUND

         King applied for disability insurance benefits on November 30, 2017. T197, T204. His claims were based on anxiety, chronic headaches, chronic back pain, and chronic neck pain. T57, T76. Those claims were denied initially on March 6, 2018, and upon reconsideration on April 18. T137-44, T148-55. King appealed and requested a hearing from a Social Security judge. T157. The Social Security judge held a hearing on September 20. T26.

         In his October 17, 2018 decision, the Social Security judge noted that King had previously applied for benefits in 2012, 2015, and 2016, and been denied, T11. But King had alleged an onset date in his 2017 application of October 1, 2012-so, the Social Security judge inferred, King was impliedly asking to reopen his prior applications. T11. The Social Security judge found no basis to reopen any of King's prior applications, however. See Efinchuk v. Astrue, 480 F.3d 846, 848 (8th Cir. 2007). So the Social Security judge considered whether King was disabled as of March 8, 2017-the day following his previous denial-but found that King wasn't disabled as defined in the Social Security Act, and therefore wasn't entitled to benefits. T8-25.

         Sequential Analysis

         Disability, for purposes of the Social Security Act, is defined as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) & 423(d).

         To determine whether a claimant is entitled to disability benefits, the Social Security judge performs a five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the claimant has the burden to establish that he hasn't engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability onset date. Cuthrell v. Astrue, 702 F.3d 1114, 1116 (8th Cir. 2013). If the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity, he will be found not to be disabled; otherwise, at step two, he has the burden to prove he has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits his physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities. Id.

         At step three, if the claimant shows that his impairment meets or equals a presumptively disabling impairment listed in the regulations, he is automatically found disabled and is entitled to benefits. Id. Otherwise, the analysis proceeds to step four. But first, the Social Security judge must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity, which is used at steps four and five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). A claimant's residual functional capacity is what he can do despite the limitations caused by any mental or physical impairments. Toland v. Colvin, 761 F.3d 931, 935 (8th Cir. 2014). At step four, the claimant has the burden to prove he lacks the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant work. Cuthrell, 702 F.3d at 1116. If the claimant can still do his past relevant work, he will be found not to be disabled; otherwise, at step five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove, considering the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience, that there are other jobs in the national economy the claimant can perform. Id.; Jones v. Astrue, 619 F.3d 963, 971 (8th Cir. 2010).

         The Social Security Judge's Findings

         At step one, the Social Security judge found that King hadn't engaged in substantial gainful activity since the disability date of March 8, 2017. T14. At step two, the Social Security judge found that King had three severe impairments: anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. T14. But at step three, the Social Security judge found that King's impairments didn't meet or equal a presumptively disabling impairment. T14-16. So, the Social Security judge determined King's residual functional capacity as follows:

The claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he is unable to work with the general public. He can get along appropriately with coworkers and supervisors under normal supervision. He can understand, remember, and carry out short and simple instructions. He cannot perform work around more than 10 people. He is able to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods for doing simple work. He is capable of handling his own finances. He can perform activities within a schedule, maintaining regular attendance and punctuality. He can maintain an ordinary routine without special supervision. He is able to respond appropriately to changes in work setting and be aware of normal hazards and take appropriate precautions.

T17. Based on that residual functional capacity, at step four, the Social Security judge found that King couldn't perform his past relevant work. T19. But the Social Security judge found that King was able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. T20. Accordingly, the Social Security judge found that King wasn't under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act. T21.

         On December 11, 2018, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied King's request for review. T1. King's complaint (filing 1) seeks review of the Social Security judge's decision as the final ...


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