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Miltenberger v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

September 30, 2016

CRYSTAL MARIE MILTENBERGER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Crystal Marie Miltenberger seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's decision denying her disability insurance benefits. She asks the Court to reverse the Administration or to remand the case. The Court affirms.

         This Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court must ensure that the ALJ has built an “accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court will uphold decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).

         The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:

(1) whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         In applying for her disability insurance benefits, Plaintiff alleged that, among other things, various ailments related to her spine, as well as her depression and fibromyalgia, preclude her from working. The ALJ found that her impairments weren't disabling, and Plaintiff is challenging those findings in this appeal.

         As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff claims that, in denying her application for benefits, the ALJ erred in relying on unsigned doctor reports. But her challenge is not that the ALJ relied upon the unsigned reports of consultative examiners, which the Regulations prohibit, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1519n(e); rather, she challenges the reports of the consultants who didn't examine Plaintiff but reviewed the record as a whole, and who typed their names on the forms in the “signature boxes.”

         The Regulations are silent as to what kind of affirmation must be included in the consultant's report. And that is the first downfall of Plaintiff's argument. See Devries v. Colvin, No. 3:15-CV-188-PPS, 2016 WL 4409231, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 18, 2016). As in Devries so here: Plaintiff failed to “cite any authority explaining what does and does not constitute an electronic signature.” Id. Moreover, as Judge Simon observed in Devries, there is a provision in POMS that suggests such forms may (or must) be completed online and “signed” electronically:

eForms, UniForms, and OMB approved forms incorporated in electronic tools, such as eCAT, are electronically signed using the “SIGN” button located in the signature field. The “SIGN” button produces an approved electronic signature, in an italicized font, of the user who is logged on to the workstation. Electronically signed eForms, UniForms, and forms incorporated into electronic tools, such as eCAT, do not require a handwritten signature.
DI 81020.105(C)(1). POMS appears to contemplate a form of approved electronic signature that may be what was used on the Lovko and Dobson forms.

Id.

         What is more, district courts in the Seventh Circuit “have affirmed ALJs reliance on reports signed using ...


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