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Davis v. Colvin

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

December 24, 2014

SHANIKA R. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.

Shanika Davis ("Plaintiff") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), & 1382c(a)(3). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

Procedural History and Background

On June 19, 2007, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") determined Plaintiff was disabled as of May 31, 2007 and approved Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. At the time, Plaintiff suffered from affective disorder, fibromyalgia, and migraines. [R. at 12.] On February 23, 2011, the SSA terminated Plaintiff's benefits upon a determination that Plaintiff was no longer disabled. Plaintiff at the time was thirty years old and suffered from mood disorder, depression, fibromyalgia, and migraines. [R. at 20.][1]

The SSA upheld the termination decision after a disability hearing conducted by a State agency Disability Hearing Officer. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing, which occurred before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Monica LaPolt on April 10, 2012. Plaintiff's attorney, Patrick Mulvany, and Vocational Expert Dewey Franklin were also present. [R. at 30.] The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's disability ended on February 23, 2011, and that Plaintiff had not become disabled again between that time and the time of the ALJ's July 24, 2012 decision.

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 10, 2013, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff filed her complaint for judicial review with this Court on October 23, 2013.

Applicable Standard

Disability for the purposes of SSI and DIB 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).[2] 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 that 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 who was found disabled continues to be disabled, the ALJ follows an eight-step process for a Title II claim and a seven-step process for a Title XVI claim. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594, 416.994.

In the first step for the Title II claim, the ALJ must determine if the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity ("SGA"); if so, the claimant no longer is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1). For the Title XVI claim, the performance of SGA is not a factor used to determine if the claimant's disability continues. 20 C.F.R. § 416.994(b)(5).

If the claimant is not engaged in SGA, step two for the Title II claim and step one for the Title XVI claim require the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the claimant does, her disability continues. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(2); 416.994(b)(5)(i).

At step three for the Title II claim and step two for the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must determine whether medical improvement has occurred. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(3); 416.994(b)(5)(ii). Medical improvement is any decrease in the medical severity of the claimant's impairment(s) that were present at the time of the most recent favorable medical decision that the claimant was disabled or continued to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(b)(1); 416.994(b)(1)(i). If medical improvement has occurred, the analysis proceeds to the fourth step for the Title II claim and the third step for the Title XVI claim. If not, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step for the Title II claim and the fourth step for the Title XVI claim.

At step four of the Title II claim and step three of the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must determine whether the medical improvement is related to the ability to work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(4); 416.994(b)(5)(iii). If so, the analysis proceeds to step six of the Title II claim and step five of the Title XVI claim.

At step five for the Title II claim and step four for the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must determine if an exception to medical improvement applies. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(5); 416.994(b)(5)(iv). There are two groups of exceptions. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(d), (e); 416.994(b)(3), (b)(4). If an exception from the first group applies, the analysis proceeds to the next step. If an exception from the second group applies, the claimant's disability ends. If no exception applies, the claimant's disability continues.

Step six for the Title II claim and step five for the Title XVI claim require the ALJ to determine whether all the claimant's current impairments in combination are severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(6); 416.994(b)(5)(v). If all current impairments in combination do not significantly limit the claimant's ability to do basic work activities, the claimant no longer is disabled. If they do, the analysis proceeds to the next step.

At step seven for the Title II claim and step six for the Title XVI claim, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity based on the current impairments and determine if she can perform her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(7); 416.994(b)(5)(vi). If the claimant has the capacity to perform past her relevant work, her disability has ended. If not, the analysis proceeds to the last step.

At the last step, the ALJ must determine whether other work exists that the claimant can perform, given her residual functional capacity ("RFC") and considering her age, education, and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(f)(8); 416.994(b)(5)(vii). If the claimant can perform other work, she is no longer disabled. If the claimant cannot perform other work, her disability continues.

On review of 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. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir.2008). The ALJ "need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted." Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir.1993). However, the "ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence." Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir.1994). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " she must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. The Court, that is, "must be able to trace the ALJ's path of reasoning" from the evidence to her conclusion. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 874 (7th Cir. 2000), as amended (Dec. 13, 2000).

The ALJ's Decision

The ALJ first determined that the most recent favorable medical decision finding that Plaintiff was disabled was June 19, 2007. [R. at 12.] She noted that at this time, Plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments: affective disorder, fibromyalgia, and migraines. [ Id. ] She also noted that at this time, Plaintiff's mental impairment met section 12.04 of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d) and 416.920(d)). [ Id. ]

At step one of the Title II (DIB) analysis, the ALJ determined that as of February 23, 2011, the date that Plaintiff's disability ended, Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. [ Id. ] At step two of the Title II analysis and step one of the Title XVI (SSI) analysis, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the medically determinable impairments of mood disorder, depression, migraines, and fibromyalgia, but that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [ Id. ] The ALJ specifically considered and rejected Listings 1.02 and 14.06 to ...


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