United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
MELINDA A. MAGEE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.
Plaintiff Melinda A. Magee ("Ms. Magee") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), and for Social Security Supplemental Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.
A. Procedural History
Ms. Magee filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 23, 2008, alleging a disability onset date of May 2, 2008. These claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Ms. Magee failed to appear at her hearing on August 10, 2010, and her case was dismissed. Ms. Magee appealed, and in January 2012, the Appeals Council remanded the matter to another administrative law judge for consideration as to whether she had good reason for not appearing at the first hearing. Ms. Magee appeared with counsel before Administrative Law Judge Tammy Whitaker (the "ALJ") in September 2012. On January 7, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision in which she found that Ms. Magee had good reason for not attending her first hearing, but also found, on the merits, that Ms. Magee was not disabled. On September 23, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.
B. Factual Background
Ms. Magee was 43 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision, and 38 years old on her alleged disability onset date. She had past work as a cashier checker, deli-slicer, gas station attendant, numerical control machine operator, receptionist, customer service representative, bartender, telemarketer, truck driver, and informal server. Ms. Magee alleges disability due to mental impairments, including bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, and a personality disorder.
Ms. Magee received several psychiatric evaluations in 2008 and 2009. In August 2008, she was seen in the emergency department at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Doctors noted that she was unable to afford to fill her prescriptions, but that she indicated that her symptoms were fairly well controlled on medication. In November 2008, Ms. Magee was assessed at White Oaks Human Service Center ("White Oaks"), which provides mental health services. She indicated that her medications helped her; however, her then current risk of harm to self was listed as moderate and she was noted as having an irritable attitude and flat affect. In December 2008, Ms. Magee's treating physician, Dr. Narayana Reddy ("Dr. Reddy") at White Oaks, diagnosed her with bipolar disorder with possible psychotic features, and possible post-traumatic stress disorder. Ms. Magee reported mood swings, racing thoughts, and three suicide attempts. She was seen by Dr. Reddy again in March, May, and June of 2009. She continued to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder with possible psychotic features, and her Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score was assessed at 50.
On September 2, 2010, Dr. Reddy made the decision to hospitalize Ms. Magee because she presented with an unkempt appearance and had been unable to bandage her head from a fall five days before. Her activities of daily living were very poor; she was not eating, had no running water or electricity, had not bathed, and was characterized as psychotic. She was assessed a GAF score of 30. Ms. Magee was hospitalized for five days, during which she got proper rest and meals, and she was characterized as mentally and physically stable upon her release. Following the hospitalization, Ms. Magee decided to move from her home in Illinois to her parents' house in Indiana. Between September 2010 and March 2011, Ms. Magee was treated at Meridian Health Services. She was diagnosed with paranoid type schizophrenia and assigned a GAF score of 35. After April 2011, Ms. Magee visited Meridian Health Services twice, but only for physical complaints.
II. DISABILITY AND STANDARD OF REVIEW
Disability is defined as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 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 him 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). 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) that meets the durational requirement, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At step three, the ALJ 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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). In order to determine steps four and five, the ALJ must determine the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC"), which is the "maximum that a claimant can still do despite [her] mental and physical limitations." Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 675-76 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1); SSR 96-8p). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).
In reviewing the ALJ's decision, this Court must uphold the ALJ's findings of fact if the findings are supported by substantial evidence 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. Further, 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). While the Court reviews the ALJ's decision deferentially, the Court cannot uphold an ALJ's decision if the decision "fails to mention highly pertinent evidence, ... or that because of contradictions or missing premises fails to build a logical bridge between the facts of the case and the outcome." Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010).
The ALJ "need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted." Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993). However, the "ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence." Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her acceptance or ...