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Dixon v. Colvin

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

September 6, 2016

DIANE DEBRA JEAN DIXON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, United States District Court Judge.

         Plaintiff Diane Debra Jean Dixon requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Dixon's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, rules as follows.

         I. 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 which 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).[1] At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities), sh e 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).

         In reviewing the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)'s decision, 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. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his 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 his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” he must “provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Dixon protectively filed for DIB and SSI on April 20, 2012, alleging that she became disabled on May 21, 2011, due to peroneal palsy, right knee pain, obesity, and spondylitic changes in the cervical spine. Dixon was born on February 7, 1960, and she was fifty-one years old on the alleged disability onset date. Dixon has a high school education and has past relevant work experience as a personnel technician, assistant teacher, and call center team lead.

         Dixon's application was denied initially on September 10, 2012, and upon reconsideration on December 17, 2012. Thereafter, Dixon requested and received a hearing in front of an ALJ. A video hearing, during which Dixon was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ William M. Manico on September 17, 2013. The ALJ issued his decision denying Dixon's claim on December 23, 2013; the Appeals Council denied Dixon's request for review on March 9, 2015. Dixon then filed this timely appeal.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ determined that Dixon will meet the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016. The ALJ determined at step one that Dixon had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 21, 2011, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Dixon had the severe impairments of “Peroneal Palsy, right knee pain, and Spondylitic changes in the cervical spine, obesity (20 CFR 404.1520(c)), ” Record at 20, but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Dixon had the following Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”):

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) but may only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. Claimant should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Claimant should avoid exposure to hazards.

Id. at 22. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that Dixon was able to perform her past relevant work as a personnel technician. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Dixon was not disabled as defined by the Act.

         IV. EVIDE ...


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