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McCartney v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

April 27, 2015

SHERYL ANN McCARTNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sheryl McCartney seeks judicial review of the Defendant's decision to deny her social security disability benefits. Administrative Law Judge L. Raquel BaileySmith issued a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff on November 21, 2012. (R. 29.) That decision became the final decision of the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review in February 2014.

For the reasons discussed below, the case is REMANDED to the agency for reconsideration consistent with this Opinion.

A. Overview of the Case

Plaintiff was 44 years old as of her alleged onset date of disability, and 49 years old on the day the ALJ issued her decision. (R. 28-29.) She was insured for disability benefits through December 31, 2013, and she would have been 50 years old on her date last insured. (R. 16.)

The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from ten impairments, nine severe and one nonsevere. (R. 16.) Despite these conditions, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained a residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of sedentary work. (R. 19.) At the ALJ hearing, the vocational expert testified that a hypothetical individual matching Plaintiff's age, work experience, and residual functional capacity could not work in any of Plaintiff's prior jobs. (R. 28, 55.) The vocational expert testified that the individual could perform other jobs, such as a surveillance system monitor, a packer, and an unskilled inspector. (R. 29, 55-56.) Relying on the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to do "other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy" and that she was therefore not disabled. (R. 29.)

B. Standard of Review

This Court has the authority to review Social Security Act claim decisions under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision if it is reached under the correct legal standard and supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor 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." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This Court will not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in the evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). This Court will, however, ensure that the ALJ built an "accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion so that, as a reviewing court, we may access the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and afford a claimant meaningful judicial review." Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002).

C. Disability Standard

To qualify for disability benefits, the claimant must establish that she suffers from a disability. A disability is an "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). The SSA established a five-step inquiry to evaluate whether a claimant qualifies for disability benefits. A successful claimant must show:

(1) she is not presently employed; (2) her impairment is severe; (3) her impairment is listed or equal to a listing in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) she is not able to perform her past relevant work; and (5) she is unable to perform any other work within the national and local economy.

Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699-700 (7th Cir. 2004).

An affirmative answer leads either to the next step or, on steps three and five, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative answer at any point other than step three stops the inquiry and leads to a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Id. The burden of proof lies with the claimant at every step except the ...


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