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Hensley v. Colvin

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

March 13, 2015

ALICE M. HENSLEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Alice M. Hensley requests judicial review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). The Court now rules as follows.


Hensley filed her application for DIB on January 14, 2011, alleging disability beginning April 15, 2010, due, in large part, to back pain and related symptoms. Hensley's application was initially denied on March 10, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on July 19, 2011. Thereafter, Hensley requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held on July 17, 2012, via video conference before ALJ Roxanne Fuller. Hensley and her counsel appeared in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the ALJ presided over the hearing from Falls Church, Virginia. During the hearing, Thomas Heiman testified as a vocational expert. On August 30, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Hensley's application for benefits. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision and denied a request for review on December 2, 2013. This action for judicial review ensued.


The evidence of record is well documented in the ALJ's decision and need not be recited here. Relevant facts, however, are noted in the discussion section below.


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 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. § 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).

On review, 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.


At step one, the ALJ found that Hensley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2010, her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Hensley suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease in the right knee; degenerative disc disease; lumbar spondylosis; osteoarthritis; fibromyalgia; migraines; irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS"); diverticulitis; gastrointestinal reflux disease ("GERD"); obesity; and depression. At step three, the ALJ determined that Hensley's severe impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Hensley had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, with the following qualifications:

[N]ever climb ramps or stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; never balance; occasional stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl; frequent reaching and overhead reaching with the left non-dominant arm; occasional use of moving machinery; occasional exposure to unprotected heights; able to remember and carry out one to two step instructions; and able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks.

Tr. at 29. Given this RFC, and taking into account Hensley's age, education, and work experience, the ALJ determined at step five that Hensley could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, those being a document preparer, a food and beverage order clerk in a hotel setting, and a final assembler (optical). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that ...

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