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Cole v. Colvin

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

August 1, 2014

SHARON M. COLE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


Tim A. Baker, United States Magistrate Judge, Southern District of Indiana

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Sharon Cole brings this appeal challenging the denial of her claim for Social Security disability insurance benefits and Social Security income benefits. Cole’s appeal raises four issues: (1) whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that Cole did not meet listing 12.04 for depression or listing 12.06 for anxiety; (2) whether the ALJ erred in failing to summon a medical advisor; (3) whether the ALJ’s credibility determination is patently erroneous; and (4) whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s step five determination that Cole could perform some jobs in the national economy. With the benefit of briefing and oral argument, the Magistrate Judge recommends that Cole’s brief in support of appeal [Filing No. 18] be denied.

II. Facts and Findings

Cole first applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in December 2007. The application was denied and Cole did not seek further review of the agency’s decisions. The denial became final and binding on May 8, 2008, when reconsideration was denied. In December 2010, Cole applied for disability and social security income again alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2008. The ALJ denied Cole’s implicit request to reopen her original application and found the relevant time period for the purposes of the December 2010 application to be from May 9, 2008 until May 25, 2012.

In a May 25, 2012, decision the ALJ found (1) at step one, Cole had not engaged in substantial gainful activity despite the fact that she earned $7, 216.40 in 2010 and $5, 108.67 in 2011 working 25 hours a week during her 3 to 4 shifts a week [Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 23]; (2) at step two, she was found to have back pain with mild degenerative disc disease, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, and opiod dependence. [Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 23.] While Cole’s medical records also indicate treatment for wrist pain and gastroesophageal reflux disease, the ALJ found that these impairments did not cause more than a minimal degree of functional loss, and were not severe within the meaning of the regulations. [Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 23.] (3) At step three, the ALJ found that Cole’s back pain did not meet listing 1.04 and that her mental impairments singly or in combination did not meet listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09. (4) At step four, the ALJ assigned Cole an RFC that limited her to medium work with additional limitations:

[Cole] can lift/carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; sit six of eight hours; and stand/walk six of eight hours. She should avoid concentrated exposure to work hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery. She should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramp and stairs. She can occasionally balance, stoop, crawl, crouch, and kneel. Secondary to mental limitations, she is able to understand, remember, and carry out short, simple instructions. She can sustain attention for two-hour segments of time for simple tasks. She can tolerate contact with coworkers, supervisors, and limited brief and superficial contact with the general public. She is able to adapt in work settings involving routine adjustments for simple, routine, repetitive type task work.

[Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 25.] Using this RFC, the ALJ found that Cole could not perform past relevant work, and (5) in referencing the Medical-Vocational Guidelines as a framework, the ALJ noted that Cole would be found not disabled under the grid regardless of whether her skills were transferable. [Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 31.] The ALJ then questioned a vocational expert concerning Cole’s ability to find jobs in the national economy given her exertional and nonexertional impairments. The VE found that Cole could perform jobs as a janitor, stock handler, laundry worker at the medium level jobs; house keeper, laundry worker, inspector at light level jobs; and packager, assembler, and inspector at sedentary level jobs. [Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 32.] The ALJ concluded that Cole was not disabled. [Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 33.]

III. Discussion

A. Standard of review

The Court must uphold the ALJ’s decision if substantial evidence supports her findings. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). “The substantial evidence standard requires no more than such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Blakes v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 568 (7th Cir. 2003). The ALJ is obligated to consider all relevant medical evidence and cannot simply cherry-pick facts that support a finding of nondisability while ignoring evidence that points to a disability finding. Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). If evidence contradicts the ALJ’s conclusions, the ALJ must confront that evidence and explain why it was rejected. Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1123 (7th Cir. 2014). The ALJ, however, need not mention every piece of evidence, so long as she builds a logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion. Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir. 2013).

B. Listings 12.04 and 12.06

Cole argues that the ALJ erred in concluding that she did not meet listings 12.04 and 12.06 for depression and anxiety disorders. In making this argument, Cole points to eight pieces of ...

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