United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Stephen R. Willing, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 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.
Stephen Willing alleges that he has been disabled because of
problems with his back, arthritis in his ankles and hip,
gastrointestinal issues, hearing loss and tinnitus, and
obesity since November 26, 2013. Willing applied for
disability insurance benefits on March 19, 2015. He brought
this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), after the Appeals
Council affirmed an Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) determination that he was not disabled
under the meaning of the Social Security Act.
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 he 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).
raises two challenges to the ALJ's determination. First,
he contends that the ALJ erred in finding that he was not
disabled because his past relevant work skills would transfer
to a new semi-skilled occupation of information clerk.
According to Willing, due to his age and sedentary-work
limitations, the regulations mandate that he be found
disabled unless his past skills would transfer to skilled,
not semi-skilled, work. Willing also contends that the ALJ
erred in finding that his past skills would transfer to the
specific occupation of information clerk, and in finding
Willing not disabled where his skills transferred to only a
single occupation, not a range of occupations. Second,
Willing argues that the ALJ erred in determining that his
hearing loss, tinnitus, and his gastrointestinal issues were
not severe impairments.
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.
Transfer of Skills
noted, Willing claims that the ALJ erred in determining that
the skills from his past relevant work as a store manager
would transfer to the semi-skilled position of information
clerk. He also argues that because the vocational expert
found that Willing could perform only one occupation rather
than a range of jobs, the ALJ should have determined that he
Willing cites Rule 201.000(e) in support of his argument
regarding the transferability of skills, this Rule not only
fails to set forth the principle Willing espouses, it is not
the only authority on the subject. The regulations provide
that the Commissioner will find a person of advanced age or
approaching retirement age who is limited to sedentary or
light work unable to make an adjustment to other work
“unless you have skills that you can transfer to other
skilled or semiskilled work, ” not merely to skilled
work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1568. And the Rule Willing cites
provides in full,
The presence of acquired skills that are readily transferable
to a significant range of skilled work within an
individual's residual functional capacity would
ordinarily warrant a finding of ability to engage in
substantial gainful activity regardless of the adversity of
age, or whether the individual's formal education is
commensurate with his or her demonstrated skill level. The
acquisition of work skills demonstrates the ability to
perform work at the level of complexity demonstrated by the
skill level attained regardless of the individual's
formal educational attainments.
20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Rule 201.000(e). This
Rule does not state or imply that an individual of advanced
age may ...