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Martin v. Colvin

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

September 27, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         Plaintiff Betty Joanne Martin requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Court rules as follows.


         Martin applied for DIB and SSI benefits on April 3, 2012, alleging disability beginning on January 20, 2012. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, whereupon she requested and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Martin was represented by counsel at the hearing, which was held on October 1, 2013, before ALJ Thomas A. Ciccolini. Martin and a vocational expert testified at the hearing. The ALJ rendered a decision denying Martin's claim on October 30, 2013. After the Appeals Counsel denied her request for review of the ALJ's decision, Martin filed this timely action for judicial review.


         The facts of the record, including the details of Martin's medical treatment, are set forth thoroughly in Martin's brief and need not be repeated here. Facts directly relevant to the Court's analysis are discussed in context below.


         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 that 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i).[1]

         At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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 durational requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         In reviewing the 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. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). 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.


         The ALJ at step one found that Martin had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 20, 2012, her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Martin had the severe impairments of affective disorder, anxiety, and supraventricular tachycardia. The ALJ also concluded that Martin has the following non-severe impairments: obesity, restless leg syndrome, conduction disorder, obstructive sleep apnea, and diabetes mellitus. At step three, the ALJ concluded that Martin's combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal any of the Listings. At step four, the ALJ concluded that Martin retained the following Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”):

I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she can have no exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, or hazards. She can do no complex tasks, complex being defined as involving arbitration, mediation, negotiation, or detailed math or reading. The claimant is limited to simple, repetitive tasks, and she is limited to low stress work, with no ...

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