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Black v. Colvin

United States District Court, Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, Lafayette

March 3, 2015

MARY P. BLACK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL R. CHERRY, MAGISTRATE JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Mary P. Black on October 22, 2013, and a Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Her Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 17], filed by Plaintiff on June 4, 2014. Plaintiff requests that the July 3, 2012 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim for disability insurance benefits be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On August 13, 2014, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on August 21, 2014. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff suffers from chronic neck and back pain, coronary artery disease, degenerative disc disease, ulcerative colitis, unstable angina, bowel problems, headaches, depression, and anxiety. On January 14, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging an onset date of December 12, 2008. The application was denied initially on March 17, 2011, and upon reconsideration on May 4, 2011. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held on June 26, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Henry Kramzyk. In appearance were Plaintiff, her attorney, and a vocational expert.

The ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits on July 3, 2012, making the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2012.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her amended alleged onset date of May 10, 2011 through her date last insured of June 30, 2012.
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: coronary artery disease, degenerative disc disease of the thoracic spine; degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine-status post rhizotomy; and, degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder-status post surgery.
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled 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 through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except: the claimant could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or kneel, or crawl; the claimant could occasionally reach overhead and perform fine and gross manipulations with her right dominant upper extremity.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1962] and was 50 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the date last insured.
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. Through the date last insured, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed.
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from May 10, 2011, the amended alleged onset date, through June 30, 2012, the date last insured.

(AR 11-22).

On August 22, 2013, 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. On October 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) 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 ...


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