United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DEBRA K. SLUDER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Debra K. Sluder ("Ms. Sluder"), requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administrator ("the Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the SSA"). For the following reasons, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
A. Procedural History
Ms. Sluder filed her application for DIB on December 15, 2009. This claim was initially denied on February 1, 2010, and upon reconsideration on April 19, 2010. Thereafter, she requested a hearing on June 28, 2010, and on June 21, 2011, there was a video hearing before Administrative Law Judge JoAnn L. Anderson ("the ALJ"). Ms. Sluder was represented by counsel at the hearing. On September 7, 2011, the ALJ denied Ms. Sluder's application, and on December 21, 2011, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's denial, thus making it the final decision of the Commissioner for the purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. On May 1, 2013, Ms. Sluder filed this appeal requesting judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
B. Factual and Medical Background
On her alleged onset date, Ms. Sluder was fifty years old. (Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 60). Ms. Sluder graduated high school, where she had taken special education classes for English and Math. (Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 69). In high school, she underwent a psychological examination under the care of Calvin B. Workman ("Mr. Workman"), a consulting school psychologist, who noted improvements in her speech impediment, as well as her academics, despite an IQ score of 68. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 2). Ms. Sluder had previously worked on an assembly line at a candy store, as both a production leader, a shift leader at Burger King, and a nursing aide at a nursing home. (Filing No. 13-6, at ECF pp. 16-19). From her alleged onset date of December 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009, when she stopped receiving insurance coverage, Ms. Sluder did not engage in substantial gainful activity. (Filing No. 13-6, at ECF p. 2). At the time of her hearing in June 2010, Ms. Sluder reported that she was 5'5" tall and weighed 190 pounds.
On September 9, 2008, Ms. Sluder sat for a hearing test that revealed she had moderate to moderately severe hearing loss. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 3). A chest x-ray taken on October 15, 2008 showed no active or acute cardiopulmonary disease, (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 25), and a subsequent x-ray taken on September 9, 2009, found similarly. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 24). On March 23, 2011, Dr. King G. Yee performed an echocardiographic examination and reported normal left ventricular systolic function (no sign of systolic dysfunction, or heart failure), (Filing No. 13-10, at ECF p. 10), while Dr. Agnes M. Kenny, M.D., administered a cardiology stress test on May 11, 2011. (Filing No. 13-10, at ECF p. 16). A left catheterization, selective coronary angiography, and left ventriculography revealed that Ms. Sluder's heart was normal and any chest pain she felt was non-cardiac in etiology. (Filing No. 13-10, at ECF p. 23).
Starting on October 12, 2009, subsequent to her last insured date of September 30, 2009, Ms. Sluder began receiving mental health treatment under the care of Mark Reef ("Nurse Reef"), an individual with a Master of Science in Nursing, at the Four County Counseling Center, which continued until February 12, 2010. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 66). Prior to meeting with Nurse Reef, however, Ms. Sluder had not received mental health treatment during the period relevant to this case. ( See Filing Nos. 13-6, 13-7, 13-8, 13-9, 13-10).
On January 29, 2010, Joelle Larsen, Ph.D., opined there was insufficient evidence to make a determination of disability for the period between December 1, 2008 and the claimant's last insured date of September 30, 2009. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF pp. 44-57). On April 5, 2010, J. Gange, Ph.D., affirmed this opinion. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 72). Similarly, state agency physician M. Ruiz, M.D., ("Dr. Ruiz") opined on January 30, 2010, that there was insufficient evidence to make any determination before the date last insured of September 30, 2009. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 58). On April 16, 2010, state agency physician J. V. Corcoran, M.D., affirmed the opinion of Dr. Ruiz. (Filing No. 13-8, at ECF p. 71).
C. The ALJ's Decision
The ALJ made the following findings as part of his decision. At step one, the ALJ determined that Ms. Sluder had last met the insured status requirements of the SSA on September 30, 2009, and that she did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of December 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009. At step two, the ALJ found that Ms. Sluder had the medically determinable impairments of moderate hearing loss and possible attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The ALJ found, however, the impairment or combination of impairments to not be severe, because they did not significantly limit Ms. Sluder's ability to perform basic work-related activities for twelve consecutive months. The ALJ then concluded that Ms. Sluder was not under a disability from December 1, 2008, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2009, the date of last insured, as contemplated in 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c), and did not continue to consider the subsequent steps in determining disability.
II. DISABILITY STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB or supplemental security income if the claimant establishes a disability, defined under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) as "the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment... which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." Under the authority of the Act, the Social Security Administration has established a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.924. ...