United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
AMBER L. TYLER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
RECOMMENDATION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
]DEBRA McVICKER LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Amber Tyler applied on March 17, 2010, for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, alleging that she has been disabled since August 1, 1999. An administrative law judge ("ALJ") held a hearing by video on October 18, 2011, at which Ms. Tyler appeared and testified. On October 27, 2011, acting for the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, the ALJ denied Ms. Tyler's claim, finding that she is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on March 7, 2013, rendering the ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Ms. Tyler timely filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's decision. This matter was referred under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) for a report and recommendation as to the appropriate disposition. (Dkt. 8).
Ms. Tyler contends that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. She argues the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to create an accurate RFC assessment that incorporated all of her impairments; and (2) erroneously evaluating her credibility while failing to properly incorporate her subjective complaints of pain. As addressed below, the court finds that the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Commissioner's decision is therefore AFFIRMED.
Standard for Proving Disability
To be eligible for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must prove she is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a 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 twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI benefits). There must be medical evidence of an impairment that results "from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques, " and disability may not be adjudged only by a claimant's description of her symptoms. 20 C.F.R. § 416.908.
The Social Security Administration ("SSA") has implemented these statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Step one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if he is, then she is not disabled, despite her current medical condition. Step two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, are severe; if they are not, then she is not disabled. A severe impairment is one that "significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or medically equal any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The impairment must also meet the twelve-month duration requirement. The Listing of Impairments includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has pre-determined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in severity to all the criteria for the most similar listed impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
If the claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then her residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do work on a regular and continuing basis despite her impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the RFC to perform her past relevant work, then she is not disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on her age, work experience, education, and RFC; if so, then she is not disabled. The individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then the Commissioner has the burden at step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Taylor v. Barnhart 425 F.3d 345, 352 (7th Cir. 2005).
Standard for Review of the ALJ's Decision
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 evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001). The court will "conduct a critical review of the evidence, " considering both the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that detracts from, the Commissioner's decision, and "the decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues." Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). The ALJ "need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted, " Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993), but the ALJ must consider "all the relevant evidence." Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). The ALJ is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his decision to accept or reject specific evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). In addition, he must "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion, " and provide some glimpse into his reasoning. Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.
The ALJ's Sequential Findings
The ALJ determined at step one that Ms. Tyler had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 3, 2010, the application date. At step two, the ALJ identified the following severe impairments: bipolar II disorder, anxiety, and depression (R. 19). At step three, the ALJ evaluated Ms. Tyler's severe impairments against the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and found "the claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments."
For purposes of steps four and five, the ALJ adopted the following residual functional capacity (RFC) "to perform the full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations", as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), specifically:
The claimant is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks requiring only simple decision making, which involves choosing amongst a limited number of options rather than coming up with creative solutions to novel situations; and the work should involve no complex or fast-paced verbal communication. There should also be infrequent and limited changes in the work setting in terms of workplace and work processes; and the claimant's exercise of judgment should be limited to the concrete rather than the abstract, as she is better able to deal with things rather than people. The claimant cannot be in direct public service positions whether in person or over the telephone but the claimant can have brief, superficial, and incidental interaction with the public. The claimant can have only brief and superficial interaction with coworkers with no team or tandem tasks. The claimant is prohibited from workplace hazards, including driving or operating moving machinery; and cannot work around unguarded hazardous machinery, unprotected heights, exposed flames or large bodies of water. (R. 22).
At step five and based on the opinion of the vocational expert, the ALJ decided that Ms. Tyler is capable of making a successful adjustment to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. ...