United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
PAUL R. CHERRY, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Camella Williams on November 1, 2013, and a Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 19], filed on April 28, 2014. Plaintiff requests that the August 28, 2012 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On July 23, 2014, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on August 18, 2014. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.
Plaintiff Camella Williams claims she is unable to work due to a herniated disc, stage one breast cancer, asthma, depression, anxiety, a sleep disorder, and carpal tunnel syndrome. On September 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging an onset date of August 13, 2010. The applications were denied initially on January 12, 2011, and upon reconsideration on March 11, 2011. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held on July 10, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mario G. Silva. In appearance were Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert. On August 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits based on these findings:
The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 13, 2010, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, asthma, sleep disorder, right-sided carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and anxiety-related disorder variously described as panic disorder with agoraphobia.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). Specifically, the claimant is able to walk no more than one hour and to stand no more than 10 minutes continuously. She requires the option to stand or sit as needed with the definitional parameters of the sedentary exertional level. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, or climb stairs or ramps, but can never kneel, crouch, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant is limited to frequent, but not constant fingering or handling of the right upper extremity, but has no limitations of the left upper extremity. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat. The claimant must avoid even moderate exposure to poorly ventilated areas, environmental irritants such as fumes, odors, and gases, and hazards such as dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. In addition, the claimant is only able to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions. She is able to make judgments on simple work-related decisions. She is able to respond to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. She is able to interact appropriately with supervisors or co-workers in a routine work setting.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1963] and was 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 45-49, on the alleged disability onset date.
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from August 13, 2010, through the date of this decision.
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. On November 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the Agency's decision.
The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final decision of the agency and indicates that the Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003)).
A court reviews the entire administrative record but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ "uses the correct legal standards and the decision is supported by substantial evidence." Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). "[I]f the Commissioner commits an error of law, " the Court may reverse the decision "without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings." White v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997)).
At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ must "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion' so that [a reviewing court] may assess the validity of the agency's final decision and afford [a claimant] meaningful review." Giles v. Astrue, 483 F.3d 483, 487 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Scott, 297 F.3d at 595)); see also O'Connor-Spinner, 627 F.3d at 618 ("An ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence, but must provide a logical bridge' ...