United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
PHYLLIS E. BELCHER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Phyllis E. Belcher 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.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Belcher filed an application for DIB on March 24, 2011, alleging disability beginning December 5, 2003. Belcher's application was initially denied on April 29, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on July 21, 2011. Thereafter, Belcher requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held on May 21, 2012, before ALJ Monica LaPolt in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the hearing, Belcher amended her alleged onset date to July 18, 2008, rather than December 5, 2003. Matthew C. Lampley also testified as a vocational expert. On July 26, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Belcher's application for benefits. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision and denied a request for review on November 12, 2013. This action for judicial review ensued.
II. EVIDENCE OF RECORD
The evidence of record is well documented in the ALJ's decision and need not be recited here. Facts relevant to Belcher's argument are, however, noted in the discussion section below.
III. APPLICABLE STANDARD
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. 20 C.F.R. § 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.
IV. THE ALJ'S DECISION
The ALJ found that Belcher's date last insured was September 30, 2010. Thus, the ALJ had to determine whether Belcher was disabled at any time between July 18, 2008, her (revised) alleged onset date, and September 30, 2010.
At step one, the ALJ found that Belcher had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 18, 2008, her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Belcher suffered from the following severe impairments: A history of rotator cuff tear status post repair; diabetes mellitus; congestive heart failure; obesity; and hypertension. Among other things, the ALJ found that Belcher's "degenerative disc disease and/or neck or back problems" were not severe impairments. Tr. at 22. At step three, the ALJ determined that Belcher's severe impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Belcher had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, subject to the following:
[O]nly intermittent (not repetitive) occasional overhead reaching and pushing or pulling with the right upper extremity;... frequent balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and climbing of ramps and stairs; no crawling, no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or working at unprotected heights; with no more than moderate exposure to extreme cold and heat; no more than moderate exposure to wetness [and] humidity; no more than moderate exposure to ...