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McKinney v. Colvin

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

September 26, 2016

TANYA Y. McKINNEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.


          Debra McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         Tanya Y. McKinney protectively filed for DIB and SSI on July 8, 2008- alleging disability since January 1, 2008-and the agency denied her claims initially and on reconsideration. Following a hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision in February 2011, and the Appeals Council denied Ms. McKinney's request for review of this decision. Thereafter, Ms. McKinney appealed to the district court, which reversed the decision and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Ms. McKinney appeared and testified at a hearing and subsequent supplemental hearing held in May and October 2014 in Indianapolis. In November 2014, the ALJ denied Ms. McKinney's claims in a written decision; thereafter, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. Ms. McKinney now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Finding that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, this court affirms.

         Standard for Proving Disability

         To prove disability, a claimant must show that she is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Ms. McKinney is disabled if her impairments are of such severity that she is not able to perform the work she previously engaged in and, if based on her age, education, and work experience, she cannot engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has prescribed a “five-step sequential evaluation process” for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a).[1] The first step inquires as to whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if so, then she is not disabled. Step two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, are severe; if they are not, then she is not disabled. A severe impairment is one that “significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has pre-determined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in severity to the criteria for the most similar listed impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).

         If the claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then her residual functional capacity (“RFC”) is determined for purposes of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do work on a regular and continuing basis despite her impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the RFC to perform her past relevant work, then she is not disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on her vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and her RFC; if so, then she is not disabled.

         The individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, given her age, education, work experience, and functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).

         Standard of Review of the ALJ's Decision

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence means evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).

         The ALJ is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his decision to accept or reject specific evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every piece of evidence in his decision, but he cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the conclusions he made, and he must trace the path of his reasoning and connect the evidence to his findings and conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).

         The ALJ's Sequential Findings

         Ms. McKinney was 32 years old at the time of the alleged disability onset date. She has a high school education and past relevant work experience as a lead teacher at a preschool, retail clerk, cashier, and housekeeper.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Ms. McKinney had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2008, the alleged onset date. At step two, he identified numerous severe impairments, including residuals of pituitary adenoma, conversion disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning. At step three, the ALJ found that none of the severe impairments, singly or in combination, met or medically equaled a listing.

         The ALJ next determined that Ms. McKinney has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that she:

• can lift, carry, push or pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently;
• is able to stand and walk six hours of an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours of an eight-hour workday;
• can occasionally stoop, balance, crouch, kneel, crawl, and climb stairs or ramps;
• should not climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds or work around hazards such as unprotected height or unguarded moving machinery;
• is limited to work involving simple, repetitive tasks requiring no independent judgment on basic work processes. Work goals from day-to-day ...

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