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McHugh v. Colvin

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 17, 2014

DEBORAH McHUGH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

Plaintiff Deborah McHugh requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Ms. McHugh’s application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Court rules as follows.


Deborah McHugh protectively filed for SSI and DIB on October 22, 2009, alleging she became disabled on September 1, 2000, due to several physical and mental impairments. Ms. McHugh’s application was denied initially on February 2, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on May 3, 2010. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Ms. McHugh requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). A hearing, during which Ms. McHugh was represented by counsel, was held in front of ALJ Albert J. Velasquez on September 13, 2011. The ALJ issued his decision denying Ms. McHugh’s claim on October 17, 2011. The Appeals Council denied Ms. McHugh’s request for review on January 2, 2013. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision, Ms. McHugh filed this timely appeal.


The evidence of record is aptly set forth in Ms. McHugh’s brief. Specific facts are set forth in the discussion section below where relevant.


Disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity she is not disabled, despite her medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).[1] At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

In reviewing the ALJ’s decision, the ALJ’s findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his acceptance or rejection of specific evidence of disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” he must “provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.


The ALJ determined at step one that Ms. McHugh had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2000, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. McHugh has the severe impairments of obesity, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bilateral lower extremity edema, insomnia, and depressive disorder, R. at 21, but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Ms. McHugh had the RFC to perform light work[2] with the following restrictions:

she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl and climb ramps and stairs; she cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, or work around hazards; she should not operate a motor vehicle; the work should require no repetitive, forceful gripping and no operation of vibrating tools; she should perform no overheard work with the right upper extremity; the work environment should be relatively free of noxious fumes, gases, respiratory irritants, temperature extremes, and humidity; work tasks should be simple and repetitive in nature.

Id. at 24. Given that RFC, the ALJ determined that she could not perform any of her past relevant work. Finally, at step five the ALJ determined that Ms. McHugh could perform a range of work that exists in the national economy, including an apparel sorter, an information clerk, and a packing line worker. ...

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