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Angel v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

August 12, 2016

TAUNDA G. ANGEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, Taunda G. Angel, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). On October 13, 2011, the Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB; and on November 23, 2011, she filed an application for SSI. In both applications, the Plaintiff alleges disability beginning on July 16, 2011. An ALJ held a hearing on May 13, 2013, at which the Plaintiff-who was represented by an attorney-and a vocational expert both testified. On September 6, 2013, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: asthma, allergies, and obesity. However, he ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff is not disabled. The Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ decision, and on December 18, 2014, the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff’s request for review. On February 18, 2015, the Plaintiff initiated this civil action for judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision. For the following reasons, the ALJ’s decision is reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with this Opinion and Order.

         ALJ HEARING

         A. The Plaintiff’s Testimony

         The Plaintiff is 55 years old and lives with her two daughters. She has completed some college, and she has past relevant work experience as a cashier and office clerk.

         At the ALJ hearing on May 13, 2013, the Plaintiff described her daily experience with several alleged physical impairments. The Plaintiff said she suffers from allergies, arthritis, and exacerbations of asthma that cause frequent uncontrollable coughing fits and asthma attacks. According to the Plaintiff, her asthma causes coughing fits or asthma attacks every four to five hours even when she takes proper medication. The Plaintiff also said that she suffers from asthma “flare ups” that last for days or weeks and cause her to be absent from work for months at a time. The Plaintiff also explained that her arthritis makes it difficult to stand or sit in the same location for extended periods of time. When asked why she could not work, the Plaintiff testified:

My asthma is very, very severe and I have problems at different times a year due to when the weather changes during the year or chemicals affecting my breathing and everything that at different times of year and everything from chemicals that-colognes and stuff like that might affect my breathing.

(R. 40-41 [ECF No. 14].)

         The Plaintiff treats her asthma by using four different inhalers, a nebulizer machine with albuterol solution, Xolair shots, and various other medications. According to the Plaintiff, these medications trigger nausea and an upset stomach. The Plaintiff also said she occasionally treats her asthma with prednisone, which causes weight gain and sensitivity to fluorescent light and direct sunlight.

         The Plaintiff testified that she has the ability to perform limited chores around the house (i.e., laundry or cooking) and to travel short distances (e.g. for grocery shopping). The Plaintiff relies on her daughter’s assistance, particularly for strenuous household chores.

         B. Vocational Expert’s Testimony

         At the hearing, the vocational expert (VE) testified that an individual of the Plaintiff’s age, education, and work experience, who was limited to light exertional work[1]in a work setting that (1) does not expose the individual to extreme heat or cold; (2) does not expose the individual to wetness or to humidity; (3) does not expose the individual to environmental irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts, or gasses; and (4) does not expose the individual to raw chemicals or solutions, could perform the Plaintiff’s past work as an office clerk. The VE also stated that, typically, an individual employed as an office clerk could “usually [miss] no more than a day to a day and half per month over the year.” (R. 60.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The decision of the ALJ is the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denies a request for review. Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir. 2009). A court will affirm the Commissioner’s findings of fact and denial of disability benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Even if “reasonable minds could differ” about the disability status of the claimant, the court must affirm the Commissioner’s decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         It is the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400. In this substantial-evidence determination, the court considers the entire administrative record but does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute the court’s own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the court conducts a “critical review of the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner’s decision, and the decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the issues. Id.

         The ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, but the ALJ must provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). If the Commissioner commits an error of law, remand is warranted without regard to the volume of ...


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