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Moses v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

April 25, 2014

LORI A. MOSES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Lori A. Moses applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on May 26, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of March 5, 2010. Her application for SSI was denied on July 27, 2010, and denied again after reconsideration on September 9, 2010. A hearing was held on November 28, 2011, in front of Administrative Law Judge Edward P. Studzinski (the "ALJ"), who determined that Ms. Moses was not entitled to receive SSI. [Filing No. 12-2 at 14-25.] The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's "final decision" subject to judicial review. Ms. Moses has filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asking the Court to review her denial of benefits. [Filing No. 1.]

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Moses was forty-three years old as of her onset date. [Filing No. 12-6 at 9.] Previously, she had worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant since 1998, with some earlier experience in fast food and factory work. [Filing No. 12-6 at 4.] Ms. Moses claims she has been disabled since March 5, 2010, because of a variety of physical impairments that will be discussed as necessary below.[1] [Filing No. 12-6 at 3.]

Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ issued an opinion on December 22, 2011. [Filing No. 12-2 at 14-25.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Moses had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[2] after the alleged disability onset date. [Filing No. 12-2 at 16.]
• At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Moses suffered from the severe impairments of a history of deep vein thrombosis and venous insufficiency in the lower extremities, sleep apnea, asthma, and obesity. [Filing No. 12-2 at 16.]
• At Step Three, the ALJ found that Ms. Moses did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 12-2 at 17.] The ALJ concluded that Ms. Moses had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, to stand or walk at least two hours in an eight-hour workday, to sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday, to only occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He also concluded that Ms. Moses should be able to alternate between sitting and standing as needed without having to abandon her work station; that she should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and that she should avoid concentrated exposure to cold, heat, humidity, and irritants such as fumes, dust, and gas. [Filing No. 12-2 at 18.]
• At Step Four, the ALJ found that Ms. Moses was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. [Filing No. 12-2 at 23.]
• At Step Five, the ALJ found that, considering Ms. Moses' age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. Specifically, the ALJ found Ms. Moses would be capable of working as a phone information clerk, food and beverage order clerk, or final assembler. [Filing No. 12-2 at 23-24.]

Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Moses was not disabled. [Filing No. 12-2 at 24.] Ms. Moses requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but on March 28, 2013, the Council denied that request. [Filing No. 12-2 at 5.] That decision is the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review, and Ms. Moses subsequently sought relief from this Court. [Filing No. 1.]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court's role in this action is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, "[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quotation omitted). Because the ALJ "is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, " Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the ALJ's credibility determination "considerable deference, " overturning it only if it is "patently wrong." Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits "is appropriate only where all ...


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