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Vance v. Colvin

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 12, 2015

BRENDA VANCE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

HON. WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA

Plaintiff Brenda Vance requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Court rules as follows.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Vance filed her application for DIB on January 5, 2011, alleging onset of disability on July 14, 2010. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, whereupon she requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). On July 5, 2012, Vance and her non-attorney representative appeared before an ALJ for a hearing, at which a medical expert and a vocational expert also testified. In a decision dated August 20, 2012, the ALJ determined that Vance was not disabled under the terms of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Appeals Council denied Vance’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision, and Vance filed this timely action for judicial review.

II. 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 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 is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity 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 meets or medically equals 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 twelvemonth 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. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her 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 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.” Id.

III. THE ALJ’S DECISION

The ALJ found at step one that Vance had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of July 14, 2010. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Vance had the severe impairments of status-post bilateral carpal tunnel release and right ulnar nerve transposition, but that those impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Vance

has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except: She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, kneel, stoop, crouch, and crawl; and frequently balance. She can frequently finger and grasp bilaterally, but cannot perform repetitive wrist flexion bilaterally. She must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold; avoid moderate exposure to vibrations; and have no close proximity to dangerous moving machinery, unprotected heights, and commercial vehicles.

Record at 17. Given this residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ concluded that Vance was able to perform her past relevant work as a fixture maker and a manager at a retail store. Alternatively, the ALJ found at step five that she was able to perform other jobs in the national economy, including check room attendant, ticket taker, and sorter. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Vance was not disabled as defined by the Act.

IV. DISCUSSION

The facts of record, including the details of Vance’s medical treatment, are set forth quite thoroughly in Vance’s brief and need not be repeated here. Facts directly relevant to the Court’s analysis are discussed in context below.

Vance argues that the ALJ’s decision is flawed in several respects. Each of the issues she raises ...


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