United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
April 28, 2015, Plaintiff Alejandra Martinez filed a
complaint in this Court, seeking review of the final decision
of the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying her
application for social security disability benefits [DE 1].
The matter is fully briefed and ripe for decision [DE 17; DE
22; DE 23]. For the reasons stated below, the Court remands
this matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
filed applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) in early 2012, alleging an onset date of
January 1, 2007. Martinez cited a variety of conditions as
the basis for her disability, including lower back and knee
pain, neuropathy, diabetes, and depression. She later
complained of pain in her hands and feet, and was diagnosed
with carpal tunnel syndrome and Charcot
applications were denied initially in May 2012, and on
reconsideration in October 2012. On September 11, 2013,
Martinez and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified
during a hearing held before Administrative Law Judge
Patricia Melvin (“ALJ”). Martinez testified that
she had previously worked as a customer service
representative with Centennial Wireless until December 2009,
when she was terminated for needing time off after having
used all of her FMLA time. She also worked for two years as a
receptionist and home health aide with Covington Commons, but
she was terminated for mistreating the elderly people.
Martinez indicated that she is unable to work because of the
constant pain in her lower back, feet, wrists, and hands, for
which she takes Neurontin and Lidoderm. Standing aggravates
her foot pain, sitting and walking aggravate her back pain,
and using her hands repeatedly (“like when [she] would
type, ” R. at 42) aggravates her hand pain. She
acknowledged being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and
rheumatoid arthritis. She believed that she could stand and
walk for approximately five to ten minutes, and sit for
approximately thirty minutes to one hour.
testified that based strictly on the hypothetical posed to
her (which offered an assigned residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) of sedentary work, limited by no climbing
of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, occasional climbing of
ramps and stairs, occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling, no use of hazardous machinery, and
no work involving slippery/uneven surfaces or unprotected
heights), Martinez would be capable of performing work as a
customer service representative and receptionist, as actually
and generally performed in accordance with the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”).
issued a decision on January 8, 2014, denying Martinez
disability benefits and concluding that Martinez was not
disabled under the Social Security Act because she was able
to perform her past work as a customer service representative
and receptionist (step 4). Given this finding, the ALJ did
not address whether Martinez could perform other work (step
5). The Appeals Council then denied Martinez's request
for review on February 26, 2015, making the ALJ's
decision the final determination of the Commissioner.
Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir.
2013). Martinez seeks review of the Commissioner's
decision thereby invoking this Court's jurisdiction under
42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 consists of
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
This evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be
less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue,
478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, 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
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.
Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence favoring
the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim's
rejection and may not ignore an entire line of evidence that
is contrary to the ALJ's findings. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 888 (7th Cir. 2001). Consequently,
an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary
support or an adequate discussion of the issues.
Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. Ultimately, while the ALJ is
not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
and supplemental insurance benefits are available only to
those individuals who can establish disability under the
terms of the Social Security Act. Estok v. Apfel,
152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998). Specifically, the claimant
must be unable “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. §
423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security regulations create a
five-step sequential evaluation process to be used in
determining whether the claimant has established a
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps
are to be used in the following order:
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial