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Ross v. Colvin

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

October 28, 2014

KATHY ROSS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kathy Ross applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on April 12, 2011. After a series of administrative proceedings, including a hearing in July 2012 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Gregory Hamel, the ALJ determined that Ms. Ross was not entitled to benefits. In October 2013, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Ross' request for a review of the ALJ's decision, rendering that decision the final decision of the Defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner"), for the purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Ms. Ross then filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting that the Court review the Commissioner's denial.

I. 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).

The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.

Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (alterations in original). "If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, she will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then she must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy." Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's RFC by evaluating all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling. Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform her own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e), (g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

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 factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion." Id. (citation omitted).

II. BACKGROUND

Ms. Ross was thirty-nine years old on the date of her hearing, July 11, 2012. [Filing No. 13-2 at 44.] She suffers from various physical and mental impairments, which will be discussed as necessary below.[1] She met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2013. [Filing No. 13-2 at 26.]

Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, the ALJ issued an opinion on July 31, 2012. [Filing No. 13-2 at 24-35.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One, the ALJ found that Ms. Ross did not engage in substantial gainful activity[2] since the alleged onset date of her disability, September 15, 2008. [Filing No. 13-2 at 26.]
• At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Ross suffered from the following severe impairments: back pain with degenerative disc disease, minimal patellofemoral osteoarthritis of both knees, fibromyalgia, obesity, panic disorder, depression, and borderline intellectual functioning. However, the ALJ found that Ms. Ross' ...

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