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Hill v. Colvin

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

May 19, 2014

JOANN G. HILL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Joann G. Hill requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Social Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). The Court now rules as follows.


Hill filed an application for SSI on April 16, 2009, alleging disability beginning February 1, 2009, due to schizophrenia and right knee pain. Farley's application was initially denied on August 21, 2009, and again upon reconsideration on November 4, 2009. Thereafter, Hill requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held on July 19, 2011, before ALJ Stephen E. Davis in Indianapolis, Indiana. After the hearing, the ALJ requested additional information from Gail Corn, an independent vocational expert. On October 26, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying Hill's application for benefits. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision and denied a request for review on March 22, 2013. This action for judicial review ensued.


According to Hill, she was injured in a motor vehicle accident in 2000. Since then, she has experienced intermittent right knee pain and swelling. Her knee pain was treated fairly conservatively until March 2011, when an MRI revealed a small lateral meniscus tear with surrounding inflammation. On May 20, 2011, Hill underwent arthroscopic surgery with synovial debridement on her right knee. The surgery also revealed an enlarged parapatellar plica, which impinged on the medial femoral condyle.[1] Shortly after the surgery, Hill reported that she was still having pain and stiffness in her knee, but that her knee pain had improved since the surgery. As such, Hill's orthopedist referred her to physical therapy. Although Hill attended the initial evaluation, there is no evidence that she continued with the physical therapy sessions.[2]


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 his physical or mental limitations prevent him from doing not only his previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering his 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, if the claimant does not have a "severe" impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

On review, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by the 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 the court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). 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 1177.


At step one, the ALJ found that Hill had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 16, 2009, her application date.[3] At step two, the ALJ concluded that Hill suffered from the following severe impairment: a meniscus tear of the right knee. The ALJ determined that Hill's anxiety disorder and polysubstance abuse were nonsevere impairments. At step three, the ALJ determined that Hill's severe impairment did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Hill had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, including:

[L]ifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; standing and/or walking six hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting six hours in an eight-hour workday; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing, kneeling, stooping, crouching, and crawling; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and no work on slippery or uneven surfaces.

Tr. at 16. Given this RFC, and taking into account Hill's age, education, and work experience, the ALJ determined at step five that Hill could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, those being a cashier, an assembler, and a hand packager. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Hill was not ...

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