United States District Court, D. Minnesota
BOWBEER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Amy L. seeks judicial
review of a final decision by the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security denying her application for disability
insurance benefits. She specifically challenges (1) the
ALJ’s finding that her head injury was not a severe
impairment (2) the ALJ’s consideration of her work
history in his assessment of her subjective complaints. The
case is before the Court on the parties’ cross-motions
for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court denies Plaintiff’s motion and grants the
filed an application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) on March 12, 2015, alleging an onset of
disability date of March 1, 2008. (See R. 148 [Doc.
No. 10].) The application was denied initially and on
reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was
convened on June 15, 2017. (R. 26). Plaintiff amended her
onset of disability date to May 16, 2010, at the hearing. (R.
issued an unfavorable decision on August 9, 2017. (R.
7–20.) Following the five-step sequential evaluation
outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ first
determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since May 16, 2010, through her date last
insured of December 31, 2014. (R. 12.) At step two, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments of:
“history of right total hip arthroplasty, with
dislocation in November 2013; and degenerative disc disease
in the cervical and lumbar spine.” (R.
The ALJ acknowledged evidence of other physical and mental
impairments, including Plaintiff’s head injury and
claimed residual effects, and engaged in a lengthy discussion
of those impairments as part of his step two analysis. (R.
to the third step of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found
that none of Plaintiff’s impairments, considered alone
or in combination, met or equaled the severity of an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix
1. (R. 16.) The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff’s right hip
impairment under Listings 1.02 and 1.03 and Plaintiff’s
cervical and lumbar spine impairments under Listing 1.04. (R.
next determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), with additional
restrictions on climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, crawling, reaching, and exposure to heights. (R.
17.) With this RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could
perform her past relevant work as a credit analyst. (R. 19.)
Consequently, the ALJ deemed Plaintiff not disabled. (R. 20.)
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review,
which made the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. (R. 1.) Plaintiff then commenced this action
for judicial review. The Court has reviewed the entire
administrative record, giving particular attention to the
facts and records cited by the parties. The Court will
recount the facts of record only to the extent they are
helpful for context or necessary for resolution of the
specific issues presented in the parties’ motions.
Standard of Review
review of the Commissioner’s denial of benefits is
limited to determining whether substantial evidence on the
record as a whole supports the decision. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “Substantial evidence is less than a
preponderance but is enough that a reasonable mind would find
it adequate to support the Commissioner’s
conclusion.” Krogmeier v. Barnhart, 294 F.3d
1019, 1022 (8th Cir. 2002) (citing Prosch v. Apfel,
201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000)). The Court must examine
“evidence that detracts from the Commissioner’s
decision as well as evidence that supports it.”
Id. (citing Craig v. Apfel, 212 F.3d 433,
436 (8th Cir. 2000)). The Court may not reverse the
ALJ’s decision simply because substantial evidence
would support a different outcome or the Court would have
decided the case differently. Id. (citing Woolf
v. Shalala, 3 F.3d 1210, 1213 (8th Cir. 1993)). In other
words, if it is possible to reach two inconsistent positions
from the evidence, and one of those positions is that of the
Commissioner, the Court must affirm the decision.
Robinson v. Sullivan, 956 F.2d 836, 838 (8th Cir.
claimant has the burden to prove disability. See Roth v.
Shalala, 45 F.3d 279, 282 (8th Cir. 1995). To meet the
definition of disability for DIB, the claimant must establish
that she 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 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The disability, not just the
impairment, must have lasted or be expected to last for at
least twelve months. Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590,
594 (8th Cir. 1993).
Whether the ALJ Properly Evaluated Plaintiff’s Head
Injury at Step Two
argues the ALJ erred by not deeming her head injury and
residual effects a severe impairment at the second step of
the sequential evaluation. The relevant timeframe is May 16,
2010 (the onset of disability date), through December 31,
2014 (the date last insured).
Relevant Legal Standards
two, the claimant must show she has an impairment that
significantly limits her ability to work in most jobs.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 (1987) (quoting
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521(b)). “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). That is, the impairment must have
“more than a minimal effect on the claimant’s
ability to work.” Id. A claimant’s
“age, education, and work experience” are not
relevant to the step two inquiry. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). Rather, “medical evidence alone is
evaluated in order to assess the effects of the impairment(s)
on ability to do basic work activities.” SSR 85-28,
1985 WL 56856, at *4. The severity showing “is not an
onerous requirement for the claimant to meet, . . . but it is
also not a toothless standard.” Kirby, 500
F.3d at 708 (citations omitted).
The ALJ’s Findings
assessing Plaintiff’s head injury and related
limitations at step two, the ALJ considered and summarized
the following evidence.
suffered a left frontal parenchymal hemorrhage, left subdural
hematoma, and right occipital and orbital fractures after she
fell during a syncopal episode on May 16, 2010. (R. 13.) She
was hospitalized for six days, during which she was monitored
and her fractures conservatively managed. (R. 13.) Plaintiff
experienced mild limitations in mobility, conditioning,
walking, daily activities, and cognitive functioning while
she was hospitalized. (R. 13.) One month after the head
injury, Plaintiff reported occasional-but
resolving-headaches, dizziness, and double vision at a
neurosurgical follow-up appointment. (R. 13.) Her motor
strength was fully intact. (R. 13.) On August 2, 2010, she
reported continued improvement and was discharged from
further neurological follow-up. (R. 13.) Plaintiff saw Dr.
Dana Barr for medication refills in August 2010 and reported
head pain. (R. 13.) Other than high blood pressure, no other
physical or mental complaints were noted. (R. 13.) Her
medications at that time were Lopressor, Zoloft, and
Flexeril. (R. 13.)
returned to Dr. Barr a year later, in September 2011, for
medication refills. (R. 14.) She said she had no sense of
taste or smell since the head injury, but she reported no
other ongoing conditions. (R. 14.) She did not report
debilitating headaches and said she took Ansaid and Excedrin
for acute headaches. (R. 14.) Dr. Barr refilled her
prescriptions for Ansaid and Lopressor for migraine
headaches. (R. 14.) Dr. Barr also prescribed Vicodin ...