United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
G. brought this suit challenging the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration's (“SSA”)
denial of her claim for disability benefits. Ms. G and the
Commissioner have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 13; Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 15. Ms.
G argues that the Commissioner's decision must be
reversed because the denial of her benefits claim is not
supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons stated
below, Ms. G's motion is denied, and the
Commissioner's motion is granted.
suffers from several severe impairments, including major
depressive disorder, anxiety disorder (not otherwise
specified), left ovarian cysts and migraine headaches. Tr. of
Administrative Record (“R.”), at 19, ECF No. 12.
The record also includes diagnoses of bipolar disorder,
agoraphobia with panic disorder, and attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”). R. 691, 694,
821, 823, 827, 833, 838, 841. Between September of 2000 and
April of 2011, Ms. G held jobs as an assembler for a
production company, an installer for a home improvement or
construction business, a manager or supervisor of a
café and apartments, and a stocker at a retail
establishment. R. 198. She applied for disability benefits on
July 18, 2014, alleging that she became unable to work on
April 11, 2011 as a result of her chronic migraine headaches,
depression, and anxiety. R. 171, 197.
initial review, the SSA denied Ms. G's application. R.
71-84. Ms. G then requested reconsideration of that decision,
but her claim was denied again. R. 87-98, 108. Ms. G next
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). R. 113-14. ALJ Denzel Busick (“ALJ
Busick” or “the ALJ”) held a hearing on Ms.
G's claim for benefits on January 19, 2017, at which Ms.
G was represented by counsel and testified in support of her
claim. R. 33-60. ALJ Busick also heard testimony from Steve
Bosch, a vocational expert, concerning the availability of
jobs for someone with specific limitations like Ms. G's.
the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Ms.
G's claim. R. 17- 28. He applied a five-step sequential
evaluation to Ms. G's claim, as required by the SSA's
regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The ALJ concluded
that Ms. G had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since April 11, 2011. R. 19. ALJ Busick next determined that
Ms. G had the severe impairments mentioned above: major
depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; left ovarian cysts;
and headaches. R. 19. In determining Ms. G's severe
impairments, the ALJ did not discuss the additional diagnoses
of bipolar disorder, agoraphobia with panic disorder, and
ADHD found in the records. R. 19. At the third step ALJ
Busick found that Ms. G did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 19-21. Because the Listings
were not satisfied, he determined Ms. G's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), which is shorthand
for the most a claimant can do in a full-time job despite her
impairments. R. 21-27. The ALJ found that Ms. G had the
ability to lift and carry 50 pounds and 25 pounds frequently
and was able to sit a total of six hours, as well as stand
and walk, combined, a total of six hours in an eight-hour
workday. R. 21. However, Ms. G also required appropriate
glasses or eyewear for vision. Most significantly for
purposes of this case, the ALJ found that due to Ms. G's
“moderate limitations in social functioning and in
[maintaining] concentration, persistence, and pace, ... [she]
is limited to work that involves brief and superficial
contact with others while performing only simple, routine,
and repetitive tasks of two to three steps on average.”
R. 21. Based on this RFC, ALJ Busick determined that Ms. G
can perform her past relevant work as an electronics
assembler, so she was not disabled between the alleged onset
date (April 11, 2011) and her date last insured (March 31,
2016). R. 27-28.
sought review of the ALJ's decision at the Social
Security Appeals Council. However, the Appeals Council denied
the request for further review, which made ALJ Busick's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner subject to
judicial review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Ms. G filed this
lawsuit, claiming that the ALJ's decision is the result
of legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence.
of the Commissioner's denial of an application for
disability benefits is limited and deferential, requiring the
denial to be affirmed if it is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole. Cline v. Colvin,
771 F.3d 1098, 1102 (8th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence is
less than a preponderance of the evidence, but must be
sufficient that a reasonable person would find it adequate to
support the conclusion. Johnson v. Apfel, 240 F.3d
1145, 1147 (8th Cir. 2001). A reviewing court is required to
consider the evidence that both supports and detracts from
the Commissioner's conclusion. Bergmann v.
Apfel, 207 F.3d 1065, 1068 (8th Cir. 2000). The
Commissioner's decision should only be disturbed if it
lies outside the available zone of choice. Hacker v.
Barnhart, 459 F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir. 2006) (internal
quotation marks omitted). And a decision is not outside the
available zone of choice merely because the court could reach
a different conclusion if it were the initial fact finder.
Nicola v. Astrue, 480 F.3d 885, 886 (8th Cir. 2007).
A court should only reverse the ALJ where the record
“contains insufficient evidence to support the
raises two issues in her summary-judgment motion. First, she
argues that ALJ erred by failing to assess whether her
bipolar disorder, agoraphobia with panic disorder, and ADHD
are severe or non-severe impairments. Second, she contends
that the ALJ erred by failing to consider her mental
impairments and her migraines in combination. For the reasons
discussed below, neither of these arguments requires reversal
of the Commissioner's decision.
asserts that ALJ Busick failed to assess whether her bipolar
disorder, agoraphobia with panic disorder, and ADHD diagnoses
were severe or non-severe impairments at step two of the
sequential evaluation. Pl.'s Mem. at 3-5. At the second
step, the SSA considers “the medical severity of [a
claimant's] impairment(s).” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). An impairment must meet a twelve-month
durational requirement to be considered severe. Karlix v.
Barnhart, 457 F.3d 742, 746 (8th cir. 2006). “An
impairment is not severe if it amounts only to a slight
abnormality that would not significantly limit the
claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” Kirby v. Astrue, 500 F.3d 705,
707 (8th Cir. 2007). The claimant bears the burden of
establishing that a given impairment is severe. Id.
at 707-08 (citing Mittlestedt v. Apfel, 204 F.3d
847, 852 (8th Cir. 2000).
The Step-Two Discussion
the ALJ's discussion of the issues at step two was rather
conclusory. After listing the impairments found to be ...