United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
PEGGY M. MAPLE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Peggy Maple requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying Ms. Maple's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, now rules as follows.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Ms. Maple filed for DIB on March 23, 2004, alleging she became disabled on September 20, 2003, due to ankle pain and depression. Ms. Maple's application was denied initially on March 23, 2004, and again upon reconsideration on June 21, 2005. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Ms. Maple requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held before of ALJ Roseanne Gudzan on October 23, 2007. The ALJ issued her decision denying Ms. Maple's claim on January 23, 2008, and the Appeals Council denied her request for review on February 26, 2008.
Ms. Maple then filed a complaint with this Court, see Cause No. 1:08-cv-469-SEB-DML (S.D. Ind. filed April 10, 2008). On July 24, 2009, this Court reversed the ALJ's denial decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court found that the ALJ did not sufficiently articulate why Ms. Maple's "reports of ankle deformity and impaired ambulation did not satisfy the requirements of Listing 1.02A." R. at 573. The Court also noted that the ALJ did not cite to a medical expert's opinion in support of her conclusion.
In the interim, Ms. Maple filed a second application for DIB on February 11, 2008. The Appeals Council ordered a new ALJ to associate her two applications and to issue one decision on both claims. See R. at 434. A hearing was held on August 6, 2010, in front of ALJ James Norris during which three medical experts testified. The ALJ issued his decision denying Ms. Maple's claim on October 27, 2010; the Appeals Council also denied Ms. Maple's request for review on September 24, 2013. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, Ms. Maple filed this timely appeal.
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 which 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 twelve-month 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. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his 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 his analysis of the evidence in her decision; while he "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " he must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.
III. THE ALJ'S DECISION
The ALJ determined at step one that Ms. Maple had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 20, 2003, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Maple had the severe impairments of "post-traumatic arthritis of the right ankle; right patellofemoral syndrome; right shoulder impingement syndrome; mild right lateral epicondylitis; right carpal tunnel syndrome; obesity; a major depressive disorder; and a panic disorder with agoraphobia, " R. at 401, but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Ms. Maple had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work except that "she should not have  more than occasional contact with supervisors, the general public, and co-workers and she [is] limited to simple and routine work that [does] not involve complex or detailed tasks. She [should] not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds." Id. at 412. Given that RFC, the ALJ determined that she could not perform any of her past relevant work. Finally, at step five the ALJ determined that Ms. Maple could perform a range of work that exists in the national economy, including work as a ticket checker, hand packager, and general office clerk. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Maple was not disabled as defined by the Act.
IV. EVIDENCE OF RECORD
The medical evidence of record is aptly set forth in Ms. Maple's brief (Dkt. No. 19) and need not be recited here. Specific facts are set forth in the ...