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Ratliff v. Colvin

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

April 29, 2015

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kelly Ratliff 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.


Ratliff filed her application for DIB on April 11, 2012, alleging disability beginning November 9, 2010, due, in large part to lower back pain and osteoporosis. Ratliff's application was initially denied on May 30, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on July 25, 2012. Thereafter, Ratliff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held before ALJ John H. Metz in Indianapolis, Indiana on July 15, 2013. During the hearing, Eric C. Puestow, M.D., and Jack E. Thomas, Ph.D., testified as medical experts, and Michael L. Blankenship testified as a vocational expert. On August 9, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying Ratliff's application for benefits. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision and denied a request for review on November 29, 2013. This action for judicial review ensued.


Ratliff's osteoporosis resulted in two separate lumbar fractures: one in January 2010, and another in 2013. Both were surgically repaired. According to Ratliff, her back pain continues to be extreme, and it limits here severely.


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 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 [his] reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion." Id.


At step one, the ALJ found that Ratliff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 9, 2010, her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Ratliff suffered from the following severe impairments: a history of compression factures to the lumbar spine and osteoporosis. At step three, the ALJ determined that Ratliff's severe impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Ratliff had the following residual functional capacity ("RFC"):

[T]he claimant [can] lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently. She can sit for eight hours in an eight-hour work day, and can stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour work day. She can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She would need to avoid concentrated exposure to hazards.

Tr. at 38. Given this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ratliff could perform her past relevant work as a director of nursing or as a medical instructor. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Ratliff was not disabled as defined by the ...

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