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Sullivan v. Colvin

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

August 14, 2014

PENNY A. SULLIVAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Penny A. Sullivan applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on May 7, 2007, alleging a disability onset date of May 2, 2007. Her initial application for SSI was denied on August 22, 2007, but the Appeals Council remanded the case to an ALJ on July 1, 2011. [Filing No. 17-3 at 29-31.] A hearing was held on remand on April 20, 2012, in front of Administrative Law Judge James R. Norris (the "ALJ"), who issued a decision on May 16, 2012, concluding that Ms. Sullivan was not entitled to disability benefits. [Filing No. 17-2 at 87-109; Filing No. 17-2 at 29-51.] The Appeals Council denied review on July 23, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's "final decision" subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 17-2 at 13-17.] Ms. Sullivan has filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asking the Court to review her denial of benefits, [Filing No 1; Filing No. 19].

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Sullivan was thirty-five years old on the date the application was filed, and is currently forty-two years old. [Filing No. 17-2 at 49.] Previously, Ms. Sullivan worked as a clerk at a variety of gas stations and stores. [Filing No. 17-2 at 49.] Ms. Sullivan alleges disability since May 2, 2007, because of a variety of physical impairments that will be discussed as necessary below.[1] [Filing No. 17-2 at 32.]

Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ issued an opinion on May 16, 2012. [Filing No. 17-2 at 29-51.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Sullivan had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[2] since May 7, 2007.[3] [Filing No. 17-2 at 35.]
• At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Sullivan suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative disc and joint disease of the lumbar spine, urinary stress incontinence, and obesity. [Filing No. 17-2 at 35.]
• At Step Three, the ALJ found that Ms. Sullivan did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 17-2 at 39.] The ALJ concluded that Ms. Sullivan had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work within the sedentary range as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). Specifically, the ALJ found that she could lift and carry up to ten pounds, sit for most of an eight hour work day if she can stand for five minutes each hour, to occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The ALJ also concluded that Ms. Sullivan could not climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds and must avoid concentrated exposure to cold, heat, wetness, humidity, and vibration. The ALJ further found that Ms. Sullivan must avoid working at dangerous heights and in close proximity to dangerous machinery. [Filing No. 17-2 at 40.]
• At Step Four, the ALJ found that Ms. Sullivan was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. [Filing No. 17-2 at 49.]
• At Step Five, the ALJ found that, considering Ms. Sullivan's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. Specifically, the ALJ found that Ms. Sullivan would be capable of working as a semi-conductor assembler, a production worker, and an inspector/tester. [Filing No. 17-2 at 50.]

Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Sullivan was not disabled. [Filing No. 17-2 at 50-51.] Ms. Sullivan requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision but that request was denied on July 23, 2013. [Filing No. 17-2 at 13-17.] Ms. Sullivan seeks relief from this Court. [Filing No. 1.]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court's role in this action is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, "[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quotation omitted). Because the ALJ "is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, " Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the ALJ's credibility determination "considerable deference, " overturning it only if it is "patently wrong." Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits "is appropriate only where all ...


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