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Schrock v. Colvin

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana

January 27, 2015

Pamela D. Schrock, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, JUDGE

Plaintiff Pamela D. Schrock applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on June 3, 2011. After a series of administrative proceedings and appeals, including a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) John Metz, the ALJ determined that Ms. Schrock was not entitled to disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income. In October 2013, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Schrock’s 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. Schrock 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) (citation omitted) (alterations in original). “An affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps Three and Five, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than Step Three, ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not disabled.” Id.

After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant’s residual functional capacity (“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. Schrock was thirty-five years old on the alleged onset date of her disability, July 21, 2006. [Filing No. 14-2 at 30.] She has a high school education. [Filing No. 14-2 at 30.] Ms. Schrock suffers from several physical and mental impairments, which will be discussed as necessary below. [1] She meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2011. [Filing No. 14-2 at 20.]

Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, the ALJ issued an opinion on October 12, 2012. [Filing No. 14-2 ...


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