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Riley v. Colvin

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

July 8, 2015

BRANDI A. RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Brandi A. Riley received supplemental security income benefits as a child for a disability, and the Social Security Administration ("SSA") re-evaluated her disability status in 2011 and determined that she was no longer disabled as of September 12, 2011. [Filing No. 13-3 at 3.] This decision was upheld on reconsideration on June 22, 2012. [Filing No. 13-4 at 33.] Administrative Law Judge John Metz (the "ALJ") held a hearing on April 17, 2013, and issued a decision on May 21, 2013, concluding that Ms. Riley was not entitled to receive benefits after September 12, 2011. [Filing No. 13-2 at 27; Filing No. 13-2 at 39.] The Appeals Council denied review on July 23, 2014. [Filing No. 13-2 at 2.] Ms. Riley then filed this action, asking the Court to review the denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [Filing No. 1.]

I.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Riley turned eighteen years old on January 10, 2011 and, after the SSA re-evaluated her entitlement to benefits, she was notified that the SSA no longer considered her disabled as of September 12, 2011.[1] [Filing No. 13-2 at 15.] Upon Ms. Riley's request, the ALJ held a hearing on April 17, 2013. [Filing No. 13-2 at 39-81; Filing No. 13-4 at 36.]

Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a), the ALJ issued an opinion on March 21, 2013, determining that Ms. Riley was not entitled to receive disability benefits after September 12, 2011. [Filing No. 13-2 at 13-27.] The ALJ found as follows:

• The ALJ did not consider Step One of the analysis, because that step is not used for re-determining disability at age eighteen. 20 C.F.R. § 416.987(b). [Filing No. 13-2 at 14.]
• At Step Two of the analysis, the ALJ found that since September 12, 2011, Ms. Riley has suffered from the severe impairments of obesity, scoliosis, congenital absence of the right upper extremity from the forearm, diabetes, intermittent explosive disorder, social phobia, avoidant personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, dysthymia, mood disorder, and bipolar disorder. [Filing No. 13-2 at 15-19.]
• At Step Three of the analysis, the ALJ found that since September 12, 2011 Ms. Riley has not had an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 13-2 at 19-21.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, the ALJ found that since September 12, 2011, Ms. Riley has had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to: "lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently with the left upper extremity but could not do any lifting with the right upper extremity. [She] could push and pull with the left upper extremity within those restrictions. [She] has no restrictions in her abilities to sit, stand or walk. [She] could climb stair[s] and ramps occasionally but could not climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds. [She] could occasionally crawl, bend, stoop and crouch. [She] has no use of the right hand. [She] has no restriction on the use of the left upper extremity including reaching overhead, fingering, handling or grasping. [She] is able to drive. [She] could not work around unprotected heights or around dangerous, moving machinery. There are no respiratory, visual or communicative restrictions. [She] could have only occasional contact with the public, supervisors and coworkers. [She] is restricted to performing semiskilled work." [Filing No. 13-2 at 21.]
• At Step Four of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Riley has no past relevant work. [Filing No. 13-2 at 26.]
• At Step Five of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Riley could perform several jobs in the national economy, including Inspector, General Office Clerk, or Fast Food Worker. [Filing No. 13-2 at 26-27.]

Ms. Riley sought review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council, but that request was denied on July 23, 2014, [Filing No. 13-2 at 2-5], making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision subject to judicial review. Ms. Riley then filed this action, asking that the Commissioner's decision be reversed and requesting an award of benefits, or in the alternative, that the case be remanded for further proceedings. [Filing No. 1; Filing No. 21 at 16.]

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"The Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income to individuals with disabilities." Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). "The statutory definition of disability' has two parts. First, it requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second it requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted or can be expected to last... not less than 12 months." Id. at 217.

When an applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, "[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (quotation omitted). Because the ALJ "is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, " Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the ALJ's credibility determination "considerable deference, " overturning it only if it is "patently wrong, " Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating ...


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