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Walp v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

August 28, 2015

TRACIE ANN WALP, Social Security No. XXX-XX-1356, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


WILLIAM G. HUSSMANN, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

This action is before me, William G. Hussmann, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to Judge Barker's order. (Filing No. 12.) Plaintiff Tracie Ann Walp seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's final decision deeming her ineligible for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The matter is fully briefed. (Filing No. 17; Filing No. 24.) Being duly advised, I recommend that the Court AFFIRM the decision.

I. Background

Walp is 43 years old and holds a high school education. (Filing No. 9-2 at ECF p. 50.) Between August of 2001 and November of 2006, Walp worked in five different jobs-cashier, tow truck driver, school bus driver, apartment manager, and office manager-each for between 6 and 13 months. (Filing No. 9-6 at ECF p. 18.) She has not worked since.

Walp applied for both Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in April of 2008 but was not successful. ( See Filing No. 9-3 at ECF pp. 11-19.) In January of 2011, Walp reapplied, alleging that she became disabled in July of 2010 by a combination of 11 physical and mental impairments. (Filing No. 9-5 at ECF pp. 4-12; Filing No. 9-6 at ECF p. 17.) This second round of applications is now before the Court.

The Social Security Administration denied Walp's applications initially and upon review. (Filing No. 9-3 at ECF pp. 2-7.) An administrative law judge (ALJ) heard Walp's case in December of 2012[1] and issued an opinion denying her claims the following month. ( See Filing No. 9-2 at ECF pp. 26-37.) In June of 2014, the Appeals Council denied Walp's request to review the ALJ's decision. ( See id. at ECF pp. 2-7.)

Walp now challenges several of the ALJ's findings, which represent the Social Security Administration's "final decision" under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). E.g., Murphy v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2014).

A. Walp's Burden of Proof and the ALJ's Five-Step Inquiry

In order to qualify for benefits, Walp must establish that she suffered from a disability as defined by the Social Security regulations. A disability is an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To establish a disability, a claimant must present medical evidence of an impairment resulting from:

anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [the claimant's] statement of symptoms.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1508, 416.908.

An ALJ must perform a sequential, five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled:

(1) Was the claimant unemployed at the time of the hearing?
(2) Does the claimant suffer from a severe impairment or a severe combination of impairments?
(3) Are any of the claimant's impairments-individually or combined-so severe that the Social Security regulations have listed them as necessarily precluding the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity?
(4) Does the claimant lack residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform her past relevant work?
(5) Does the claimant lack RFC to perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy?

See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4).

The claimant is disabled only if the ALJ answers "yes" to all five questions. See Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000). An answer of "no" to any question ends the inquiry immediately and precludes the claimant from eligibility for benefits. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof at Steps One through Four. Id. If the claimant succeeds, the Commissioner bears the burden at Step Five of proving that the claimant is not disabled. Id.

B. The ALJ's Findings

At Step One, the ALJ found that Walp had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (Filing No. 9-2 at ECF p. 28.)

At Step Two, the ALJ found Walp severely impaired by a Chiari I malformation, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spines, bursitis of the hips, carpal tunnel syndrome, interstitial cystitis, obesity, and depression. (Id. ) The ALJ also noted that Walp reported a diagnosis of fibromatosis in her feet, but he found that this condition did not constitute a medically determinable impairment. (Id. at ECF p. 29.)

At Step Three, the ALJ found that none of Walp's impairments- individually or combined-met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Id. at ECF p. 23.) The ALJ gave specific attention to Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), 1.04 (disorders of the spine), and 12.04 (affective disorders) but found that Walp's limitations fell short of the listed criteria. ( See id. at ECF pp. 29-31.)

Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ found that Walp's RFC allowed her to perform sedentary work with several limitations. ( See id. at ECF p. 31.)

At Step Four, the ALJ found Walp unable to perform any of her past relevant work. (Id. at ECF pp. 35-36.) At Step Five, however, the ALJ found Walp capable of performing such sedentary work as "clerical support worker, " "quality ...

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