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Thornton v. Colvin

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

June 4, 2014

DEENA THORNTON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Deena Thornton requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI"). The Court rules as follows.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Thornton filed her application for SSI alleging disability beginning in April 2000. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, whereupon she requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). On February 9, 2012, Thornton and her counsel appeared before an ALJ for a hearing, at which a vocational expert also testified. In a decision dated February 16, 2012, the ALJ determined that Thornton was not disabled under the terms of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Appeals Council denied Thornton's request for review of the ALJ's decision, and Thornton filed this timely action for judicial review.

II. 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 that 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). 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. § 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).

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. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). 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." Id.

III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ found at step one that Thornton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date of her application for SSI, July 9, 2010. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Thornton had the severe impairments of COPD, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, left ulnar neuropathy across the left elbow, early right carpal tunnel syndrome, coronary artery disease, diabetes, anxiety disorder, bipolar disease, mood disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, depressive disorder, substance dependence, and borderline personality traits, but that those impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Thornton

has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she is further limited to unskilled work which does not involve detailed or complex instructions, no more than superficial interaction with others, with the option to change positions every 30 minutes, no more than occasional gripping with the left nondominant hand, no more than occasional reaching above shoulder level, no kneeling or squatting all the way down to the floor, and no concentrated exposure to odors, dusts, gases, or other pulmonary irritants.

Record at 19. Given this residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ concluded that Thornton was unable to perform her past relevant work as a fast food worker, buffer, cashier, or punch tender. The ALJ then determined that, considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC, Thornton was able to perform a significant number of jobs existing in the national economy, including office helper, office mail clerk, and courier. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Thornton was not disabled as defined by the Act.

IV. DISCUSSION

The facts of record, including the details of Thornton's medical treatment, are set forth quite thoroughly in Thornton's ...


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