United States District Court, D. Minnesota
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
T. SCHULTZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michelle Lee Goetz (“Goetz”) appeals the
Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her
application for disability insurance benefits. This matter is
before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment
[Docket Nos. 15, 18]. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court recommends Goetz's Motion for Summary Judgment be
denied and the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment
October 25, 2013, Goetz filed an application for disability
insurance benefits stemming from numerous ongoing health
issues. Tr. 12, 17. She claims a disability onset date of
September 9, 2009, and a date last insured of March 31, 2015.
Tr. 89-90. Thus, Goetz must establish she became disabled on
or before March 31, 2015. Martonik v. Heckler, 773
F.2d 236, 238 (8th Cir. 1985).
application was denied initially on January 3, 2014, and
again upon reconsideration on June 24, 2014. Tr. 95-96,
109-10. Goetz appealed her denial to the ALJ, who upheld the
denial of benefits, concluding that, while Goetz was unable
to perform past relevant work, she was able to perform other
work. Tr. 25-26. Goetz then appealed to the Appeals Council,
which appeal was denied, making the ALJ's November 5,
2015 decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; Tr.
December 21, 2016, Goetz timely filed this action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision
of the Commissioner. Compl., Docket No. 1. The parties filed
cross motions for summary judgment [Docket Nos. 15, 18]
pursuant to District of Minnesota Local Rule 7.2(c).
argues the ALJ committed reversible error in crafting a
Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (“RFC”)
not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Pl. Mem.
p. 1, Docket No. 16. In sum, she argues the ALJ placed too
much weight on opinions of non-examining sources while
placing little or no weight on the opinions of examining
and/or treating sources. Id. at pp. 7-14. She also
alleges the ALJ improperly assessed her credibility.
Id. at pp. 14-16. The Commissioner argues the ALJ
assigned proper weight to the medical opinion evidence and
correctly assessed Goetz's credibility, and thus the
denial of benefits was supported by substantial evidence in
the record. Def. Mem. p. 1, Docket No. 19. In essence, the
dispute hinges on whether the ALJ considered and properly
weighed the medical evidence and the claimant's testimony
in determining Goetz's RFC.
determined Goetz was not disabled as defined by the Social
Security Act and denied her application for disability
insurance benefits. Tr. 24-26. The ALJ proceeded through the
five-step evaluation process provided for in social security
regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4);
Tr. 14-25. At step one, the ALJ found Goetz was not presently
engaged in substantial gainful activity because, while she
had been briefly paid to assist an elderly neighbor with
chores and errands, that assistance did not constitute
substantial gainful activity. Tr. 14. At step two, the ALJ
determined Goetz had the severe impairments of relapsing
polychondritis (cartilage inflammation and deterioration);
history of bilateral knee replacement; chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease/asthma, with chronic tobacco abuse; history
of aortic aneurysm; history of scleritis (eye inflammation);
chronic pain syndrome; peripheral arterial/vascular disease
with aortoiliac stenting bilaterally; right renal artery
stenosis with renal artery stenting; anemia; and
osteoporosis. Tr. 14-15. At step three, the ALJ determined
these impairments neither met nor medically equaled the
severity of one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.920(d), 416.925 or 416.926. Tr. 15-24.
Accordingly, the ALJ determined Goetz's RFC as:
… through the date last insured, [Goetz] had the
residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a), which involves lifting and
carrying 10 lbs. occasionally and less than 10 lbs.
frequently, sitting for 6 hours out of an 8-hour day, and
standing and/or walking for 2 hours out of an 8-hour day. The
claimant would be able to occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, occasionally be able to balance, stoop, kneel, crouch
and crawl, and would not be able to climb ladders or
scaffolds. There would be no exposure in the workplace to
unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts or
concentrated amounts of dust, odors, fumes and pulmonary
irritants, with no work involving exposure to extreme cold or
heat, or vibration.
four, the ALJ determined Goetz was unable to perform past
relevant work as a training specialist because the vocational
expert testified Goetz's RFC precluded her from doing so.
Tr. 24. At Step Five, the ALJ found that jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Goetz could
have performed, such as a document preparer, semi-conductor
bonder, and a touch up screener for printed circuit board.
Tr. 24-25. The ALJ thus concluded that Goetz, given her
relative youth (43 years old) and her education, was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. Id.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Commissioner's denial of disability benefits is subject
to judicial review. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3). This Court has authority to “enter, upon
the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment
affirming, modifying or reversing the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding
the cause for a rehearing.” Id. at §
under the Social Security Act means 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.” Id. at § 423(d)(1)(A). Under
the regulations, disability means that the impairment(s)
is/are so severe that the claimant is not only unable to
engage in her previous work, ...