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Sterling v. Colvin

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

July 24, 2014

RENE E. STERLING, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

DENISE K. LARUE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Plaintiff Rene E. Sterling (“Sterling”) requests judicial review of the decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying Sterling’s application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). The Honorable Sarah Evans Barker, District Judge, designated this Magistrate Judge, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), to issue a report and recommendation on the request. [Dkt. 9.] For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and REMANDED.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Sterling filed an application for SSI on August 21, 2009, alleging an onset of disability of June 21, 2002. [Dkt. 14-2 at 12.] Sterling’s application was denied initially on February 15, 2010, and upon reconsideration on March 17, 2010. Id. Sterling requested a hearing, which was held on October 19, 2011 and February 8, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge Mark C. Ziercher (“ALJ”). The ALJ denied Sterling’s application on May 24, 2012. [Dkt. 14-2 at 9.] The Appeals Council denied Sterling’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision on July 2, 2013, making the ALJ’s decision final for purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 14-2 at 2.] Sterling filed her Complaint with this Court on July 15, 2013. [Dkt. 1.]

B. Factual Background and Medical History

Sterling was born on October 5, 1958, and was 54 years old at the time of the hearing. She has no past relevant work. Sterling previously received SSI; however, benefits were discontinued in 2006 after she received a small inheritance. The ALJ found Sterling suffers from the severe impairments of chronic back pain, severe left-sided hearing loss and anxiety disorder. As Sterling and the ALJ thoroughly summarized the medical records, the Court will only cite to the portions relevant to the issues on which Sterling requests review.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard for Proving Disability

To be eligible for SSI and DIB, a claimant must show he is unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To evaluate a disability claim, an ALJ must use the following five-step inquiry:

Step One: Is the claimant currently employed;
Step Two: Does the claimant have a severe impairment or combination of impairments;
Step Three: Does the claimant’s impairment meet or equal any impairment listed in the regulations as being so severe as to ...

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