United States District Court, D. Minnesota
J. Drummond, for Plaintiff Curtis E.
Michael A Moss, Assistant Regional Counsel, Social Security
Administration, for Defendant Andrew Saul.
BOWBEER, United States Magistrate Judge 
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Curtis E. seeks
judicial review of a final decision by the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The matter
is now before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment [Doc. Nos. 11, 13]. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment and grants the Commissioner's motion for
was born in May 1962. (R. 233.) His past relevant work includes
employment as a heavy equipment operator, crew foreman, and
large truck salesman. (R. 240.) Plaintiff reports that he
began experiencing severe pain in his back, such that he
could not work, in late 2013, and he has seen several
doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors since then.
(R. 368, 371-74.) Eventually, Plaintiff underwent spinal
surgeries in 2018 and 2019. (R. 162, Ex. Med. R. at 5 [Doc.
filed an application for DIB on December 31, 2015, alleging
an onset of disability date of October 30, 2013. (R. 11.) His
claims for disability were based on severe back and neck
pain. (R. 13.) Plaintiff's applications were denied
initially and on reconsideration, and he timely requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). The ALJ then convened a hearing, at
which Plaintiff and vocational expert Jesse Ogren testified.
December 22, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff's application. (R. 8-20.) Following the
five-step sequential analysis outlined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ first determined Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date. (R. 13.) At step two, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff had a severe impairment: degenerative disc disease
of the lumbar and cervical spine with radiculopathy. (R. 13.)
The ALJ found at the third step that the impairment did not
meet or equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20
C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, appendix 1. (R. 14.)
four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”). (R. 15-19.) As part of that
assessment, the ALJ analyzed whether the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of Plaintiff's symptoms
were as severe as he claimed. (Id.) The ALJ also
analyzed and assigned evidentiary weight to four medical
sources who opined on Plaintiff's condition. (R. 29-32.)
The ALJ found Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light
work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b). In light of this RFC, the ALJ concluded
Plaintiff could perform past relevant work as an Automobile
Salesperson and a Broker Truck Dealer. (R. 19.) Accordingly,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 19.)
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, which made
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. (R. 1.) Plaintiff then filed this action for
argues the ALJ erred at the fourth step by concluding that
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work. (Pl.'s Mem.
Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 1 [Doc. No. 12].) Specifically,
Plaintiff challenges as insufficient the weight the ALJ gave
to the opinions of two medical sources, Dr. Andrews and Dr.
Johnson. (See Id. at 5, 7-8.) Plaintiff also argues
the ALJ erred by failing to consider Plaintiff's
“non-exertional limitations”-that is, his pain-in
determining Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.
March 8, 2019, Plaintiff filed a “Notice”
informing the Court that he had been granted DIB on March 3,
2019. (Notice [Doc. No. 15].) The disability benefits are
retroactive, based on a finding that Plaintiff became
disabled on December 23, 2017. (Id. at 1-2.)
Plaintiff also filed supplemental medical records from a
procedure performed in March of 2019. (Ex. Med. R.) Plaintiff
did not explain how the March 3, 2019 award of DIB or the
March 2019 medical records affected the merits of his claim
for benefits for the relevant time period.
Plaintiff has been deemed disabled beginning on December 23,
2017, the time period most relevant to the Court's
consideration of the Commissioner's decision is October
13, 2013 (the alleged onset of disability date) through
December 22, 2017 (the date of the ALJ's decision).
Cunningham v. Apfel, 222 F.3d 496, 501 (8th Cir.
2000). Medical or other evidence before or after that period
may also be relevant, but only if it relates to
Plaintiff's impairments during that date range. See
Vandenboom v. Barnhart, 421 F.3d 745, 750 (8th Cir.
2005). Accordingly, the Court considers Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment as still active, but as only
seeking benefits for the period of October 30, 2013 through
December 22, 2017.
Court has reviewed the entire administrative record, giving
particular attention to the facts and records cited in the
parties' memoranda. The Court will incorporate 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 SSA's denial of benefits is limited to
determining whether substantial evidence on the record
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 his 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 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 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).
Legal Standards Applicable to Step Four RFC
assessment measures the most a person can do, despite his
limitations, in a work setting. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ is responsible for assessing a
claimant's RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c). The ALJ
must base the RFC “on all relevant evidence, including
medical records, observations of treating physicians and
others, and the claimant's own descriptions of his or her
limitations.” Eichelberger v. Barnhart, 390
F.3d 584, 591 (8th Cir. 2004). In addition, “RFC is not
simply a laundry list of impairments and limitations.”
Gann v. Colvin, 92 F.Supp.3d 857, 884 (N.D. Iowa
2015). Thus, the ALJ may distill what may be numerous
impairments and limitations into a descriptive phrase, as
long as it accurately captures a claimant's abilities in
a work setting. See Howard v. Massanari, 255 F.3d
577, 582 (8th Cir. 2001) (finding the ALJ's description
of the claimant as “able to do simple, routine,
repetitive work” adequately accounted for the
claimant's borderline intellectual functioning).
Whether the ALJ Erred in Determining Plaintiff's RFC for
the Period of October 30, ...