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Jimenez v. Colvin

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

July 21, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


RICHARD L. YOUNG, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff, Jessica Jimenez, filed a request for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Supplemental Security Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3). The court referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge, who recommends that this court uphold the final decision of the Commissioner based on findings that: (1) the ALJ properly weighed the medical evidence in determining Plaintiff's residual functional capacity and (2) the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. (Filing No. 16). Plaintiff objects to both of the recommended findings. The Commissioner did not respond. For the reasons set forth below, the court SUSTAINS the Plaintiff's Objection and REVERSES the ALJ's decision denying benefits.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on March 21, 2011, alleging an onset of disability of July 22, 2009, due to her numerous medical ailments including "degenerative disc disease, obesity, headaches, various gastrointestinal impairments, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and anxiety disorder." Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on May 26, 2011, and denied on reconsideration on August 12, 2011. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Angela Miranda ("ALJ") by video teleconference on April 16, 2012. The ALJ's November 30, 2012 decision also denied Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI, and on January 22, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for purposes of judicial review.

II. Legal Standard

To be eligible for SSI, a claimant must have a disability, 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. § 416(i). In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a "severe" impairment that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities, she is not disabled; (3) if the Commissioner determines that the claimant's impairment meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, the claimant is not disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and she is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; and (5) if he claimant can perform certain other available work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

The Commissioner's decision must be upheld if it "applies the correct legal standard and is supported by substantial evidence." Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 306 (7th Cir. 2010). "Although a mere scintilla of proof will not suffice to uphold an ALJ's findings, the substantial evidence standard requires no more than such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Blakes v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 568 (7th Cir. 2003). The ALJ is obligated "to consider all relevant medical evidence and cannot simply cherry-pick facts that support a finding of non-disability while ignoring evidence that points to a disability finding." Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). "A decision denying benefits need not discuss every piece of evidence, but if it lacks an adequate discussion of the issues, it will be remanded." See Campbell, 627 F.3d at 306. An adequate discussion ensures that the ALJ built a "logical bridge" from the evidence to her conclusion. Denton, 596 F.3d at 425.

III. The ALJ's Decision

At step two, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: (1) obesity; (2) mental impairments variously assessed as bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and anxiety; (3) degenerative disc disease, thoracic spine abnormalities; and (4) headaches with evidence of sinusitis. (R. at 25). However, at step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments as follows: Listing 1.00 for ineffective ambulation, Listing 1.04 for disorders of the spine, Listing 11.00 et seq. for her headaches, and Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08 for her mental impairments. (R. at 27-29).

At step three but before step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform "light work... with postural, environmental, and mental limitations more specifically described below." (R. at 29). Specifically, the ALJ found the following limitations to Plaintiff's ability to perform light work:

[T]he claimant has the capacity to occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds and to frequently lift and carry 10 pounds. The claimant has the unlimited capacity to push and pull up to the weight capacity for lifting and carrying. The claimant has the capacity to stand and walk 6-8 hours in an 8-hour workday and has the capacity to sit 6-8 hours in an 8-hour workday. The claimant may require the ability to change position for momentary symptoms relief but that can be done without leaving the workstation. The claimant has the capacity to frequently balance; to occasionally stoop, crouch, and climb stairs and ramps; but the claimant should never be required to kneel, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds in the workplace.... Mentally the claimant has the capacity to use common sense understanding to carryout instructions, to deal with several concrete variables in standardized situations, and to perform these mental abilities consistent with the demands of a normal workday schedule.... Occasional interaction with coworkers and general-public was defined as having the ability to work in vicinity of coworkers and the general-public, but actual interaction for completion of job tasks is limited to one third of the workday....

(R. at 29).

IV. Analysis

A. Weight of the Medical Evidence

The first issue raised is whether the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinions of treating physicians, Dr. Dorothy Boersma and Dr. Marwan Ghabril, and Nurse Practitioner Shane Dulemba ("N.P. Dulemba"), when determining Plaintiff's residual ...

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