United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Kevin D. Fahey, Plaintiff,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge
matter is before Court on the parties' cross-Motions for
Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's
Motion is denied and Defendant's Motion is granted.
Kevin Fahey alleges that he has been disabled because of a
lower back injury and arthritis in his hands since August 21,
2012. Fahey applied for disability insurance benefits on May
7, 2013. He brought this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), after the Appeals Council affirmed an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) determination that he was not
disabled and the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's
individual is considered disabled for purposes of Social
Security Disability Insurance benefits if he is “unable
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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). In addition, an individual is disabled
“only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
“[A] physical or mental impairment is an impairment
that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.”
Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(D).
Commissioner has established a sequential, five-step
evaluation process to determine whether an individual is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the
claimant must establish that he is not engaged in any
“substantial gainful activity.” Id.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he is not, the claimant must then
establish that he has a severe medically determinable
impairment or combination of impairments at step two.
Id. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At step three the
Commissioner must find that the claimant is disabled, if the
claimant satisfies the first two steps and the claimant's
impairment meets or is medically equal to one of the listings
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 1. Id.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's impairment
does not meet or is not medically equal to one of the
listings, the evaluation proceeds to step four. The claimant
then bears the burden of establishing his residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) and proving that she cannot
perform any past relevant work. Id. §
416.920(a)(4)(iv); Young v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1065,
1069 n.5 (8th Cir. 2000). If the claimant proves he is unable
to perform any past relevant work, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to establish at step five that the claimant can
perform other work existing in a significant number of jobs
in the national economy. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant can perform such work,
the Commissioner will find that the claimant is not disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
challenges only the ALJ's determinations at steps three
and four of the above analysis. At step three, the ALJ found
that Fahey's combination of impairments do not meet or
are not medically equal to one of the listings. (Admin. R.
(Docket No. 9) at 25-26.) At step four, the ALJ found that
Fahey had the capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). (Id.
at 26.) The ALJ found that Fahey could lift and carry no more
than 20 pounds, and that he could walk or stand for no more
than four hours a day, changing positions every 30 minutes.
(Id.) The ALJ further restricted Fahey's
capacity to no more than occasional bending, twisting,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, or climbing.
(Id.) Based on Fahey's RFC, the ALJ found that
he could return to three of his previous jobs. (Id.
at 31.) Thus, the ALJ determined that Fahey was not disabled.
(Id. at 32.)
Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is
limited to determining whether that decision is
“supported by substantial evidence on the record as a
whole.” McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863
(8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance, but is enough that a reasonable mind would
find it adequate to support the Commissioner's
conclusion.” Id. As long as substantial
evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's
decision, the Court may not reverse it because substantial
evidence exists in the record that would have supported a
contrary outcome or because the Court would have decided the
case differently. Id.
determined that Fahey's impairment or combination of
impairments did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.04,
disorders of the spine. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1,
1.04A. In particular, she found that the medical evidence
“does not demonstrate compromise of a nerve root or the
spinal cord” accompanied by the additional finds the
Listing requires, such as nerve root compression, limitation
of motion, motor loss, and positive straight-leg raising. (R.
attacks the ALJ's impairment determination, contending
that the medical records establish the requisite nerve-root
compression combined with reduced range of motion and
positive straight-leg raising. But while there are notations
in the record documenting some reduced range-of-motion and
occasional positive straight-leg raising, there are also
instances of vast improvement in functioning, including many
instances of negative straight-leg raising. The question is
not whether Fahey has ever experienced disabling pain; there
is no doubt that he has experienced such pain. The question
is whether, from August 2012 until the date of the hearing in
2016, Fahey was unable to work because of a disability for a
period of at least 12 continuous months. See Titus v.
Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 594 (8th Cir. 1993) ([I]t is the
disability which must be continuous for 12 months, not the
impairment.”) (emphasis omitted). The ALJ correctly
concluded, and substantial evidence in the record indicates,
that Fahey's impairment over the four-year period did not
rise to a Listing-level impairment.
the ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole. The restrictions the ALJ
imposed on Fahey's RFC-such as the ability to change
positions every 30 minutes-further evidence her understanding
of the record as a whole. The ALJ determined that Fahey ...