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Elliot v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 17, 2014

STEPHANIE E. ELLIOT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Stephanie Elliot requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying Ms. Elliot'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.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Stephanie Elliot protectively filed for SSI and DIB on June 3, 2010, alleging she became disabled on July 17, 2009, due to several medical conditions. Ms. Elliot's application was denied initially on September 20, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on December 20, 2010. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Ms. Elliot requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A video hearing, during which Ms. Elliot was represented by counsel, was held in front of ALJ Angela Miranda on October 5, 2011. The ALJ issued her decision denying Ms. Elliot's claim on November 18, 2011. The Appeals Council also denied Ms. Elliot's request for review on November 20, 2012. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, Ms. Elliot filed this timely appeal.

II. EVIDENCE OF RECORD

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

III. APPLICABLE STANDARD

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 her 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 her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " she must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

IV. THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ determined at step one that Ms. Elliot had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 17, 2009, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Elliot has the following severe impairments:

mental impairments variously assessed as depression, major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, bereavement, anxiety, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety with some post traumatic symptoms; seizure disorder described as general seizure disorder, partial complex seizures with secondary generalization, and stress response; back disorders described as mild spondylosis, mild bulge at T5-6, and central and left protrusions multilevel in the thoracic spine with mild curvature, and mild changes of spondylosis and osteophyte formation in the cervical spine status post partial corpectomy ac C5-6; and Hashimoto's thyroiditis status post thyroidectomy; and mild intermittent asthma with tobacco use disorder.

R. at 29-30. The ALJ, however, found that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Elliot had the RFC to perform sedentary work with certain limitations. 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. Elliot could perform a range of work that exists in the national economy, including a final assembler, lens inserter, and toy stuffer. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Elliot was not disabled as defined by the Act.

V. DISCUSSION

In her brief in support of her Complaint, Ms. Elliot argues that the ALJ: 1) erred in assessing an RFC that is not supported by substantial evidence; 2) improperly dismissed her own testimony; and 3) erred at Step ...


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