United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
PATRICIA G. LATHAM, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Patricia Latham requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying Ms. Latham's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, b=now rules as follows.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Patricia Latham protectively filed for SSI and DIB on September 17, 2009, alleging she became disabled on March 1, 2008, primarily due to lupus, depression, and anxiety. Ms. Latham's application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Ms. Latham requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing, at which Ms. Latham was represented by counsel, was held before ALJ John D. McNamee-Alemany on April 13, 2011. The ALJ issued a favorable decision on Ms. Latham's claim on April 19, 2011. The Appeals Council set aside the favorable hearing decision on June 17, 2011, and sent Ms. Latham's case back to a different ALJ for more action and a new decision. A second hearing, at which Ms. Latham was represented by counsel, was held before ALJ Mark C. Ziercher on July 13, 2012. The ALJ denied Ms. Latham's claim on August 3, 2012. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, Ms. Latham filed this timely appeal.
II. EVIDENCE OF RECORD
The evidence of record is aptly set forth in Ms. Latham's brief. Specific facts are set forth in the discussion section below where relevant.
III. APPLICABLE STANDARD
Disability is defined as "the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") she is not disabled, despite her medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). At step two, if the claimant does not have a "severe" impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve-month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).
In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this 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 such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, " id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his acceptance or rejection of specific evidence of disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " he must "provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.
IV. THE ALJ'S DECISION
The ALJ determined at step one that Ms. Latham had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 1, 2008, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Latham has the severe impairments of "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease, major depressive disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder, " Tr. 12, but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Latham had the RFC to perform work at the light exertional level with the following restrictions:
She can stand and/or walk for up to 30 minutes uninterrupted for up to a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and can sit for 30 minutes uninterrupted for up to a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; and can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Regarding the neck, she can perform flexion, extension, and rotation frequently. She can frequently reach in all directions bilaterally. She can have frequent exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, and humidity....
Regarding respiratory irritants (e.g., fumes, noxious odors, dusts, mists, gases, and poor ventilation), she can work in situations up to but excluding concentrated exposure.... She can understand, remember, and perform simple work tasks at GED Reasoning Level 02.... She can have frequent contact with the general public. She can perform work that requires no more than frequent travel to different work sites. She can perform productive work tasks for ...