United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
SANDRA B. SPEARS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Sandra B. Spears applied for disability benefits under the
Social Security Act on October 20, 2012, alleging a
disability onset date of September 24, 2010. [Filing No.
17-2 at 24.] Her claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration, and a hearing was held before Administrative
Law Judge Lisa B. Martin on March 18, 2014. [Filing No.
17-2 at 42-88.] On October 17, 2014, the ALJ concluded
that Ms. Spears was not disabled under the Social Security
Act. [Filing No. 17-2 at 36.] The Appeals Council
denied Ms. Spears' request for review on October 14,
2015. [Filing No. 17-2 at 2-4.] On December 10,
2015, Ms. Spears filed this civil action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. Section 405(g), asking this Court to review the denial
of her benefits request. [Filing No. 1.]
Standard of Review
Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability
insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income to
individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v.
Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory
definition of ‘disability' has two parts. First, it
requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second it
requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental
impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The
statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted
or can be expected to last . . . not less than 12
months.” Id. at 217.
applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this
Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied
the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence
exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v.
Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation
omitted). For the purpose of judicial review,
“[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). Because
the ALJ “is in the best position to determine the
credibility of witnesses, ” Craft v. Astrue,
539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the
ALJ's credibility determination “considerable
deference, ” overturning it only if it is
“patently wrong, ” Prochaska v.
Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations
must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in
(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the
impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the
claimant can perform [her] past work; and (5) whether the
claimant is capable of performing work in the national
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000)
(citations omitted) (alterations in original). “If a
claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, [she] will
automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies
steps one and two, but not three, then [she] must satisfy
step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to
the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of
performing work in the national economy.” Knight v.
Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).
Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a
claimant's RFC by evaluating “all limitations that
arise from medically determinable impairments, even those
that are not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ
“may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the
ruling.” Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four
to determine whether the claimant can perform his own past
relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether
the claimant can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(e), (g). The burden of proof is on the
claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does
the burden shift to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227
F.3d at 868.
ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists
to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the
denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When
an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the
appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v.
Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of
benefits “is appropriate only where all factual issues
have been resolved and the record can yield but one
supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation
Spears was forty-five years old on her alleged disability
onset date. [Filing No. 17-2 at 34.] After
receiving her GED and attending trade school, Ms. Spears was
a union construction worker helping to build high rise
buildings. [Filing No. 17-2 at 48.] Specifically,
she insulated heaters and air conditioners for seventeen
years. [Filing No. 17-2 at 49-50.] ¶ 2009, Ms.
Spears fell thirteen feet, landed on her head, and was in a
drug-induced coma for eight weeks. [Filing No. 17-2
at 54.] She testified at the hearing before the ALJ that as a
result, her balance is off, she has been told she will have
brain damage her whole life, and doctors have recommended
that she get a walker. [Filing No. 17-2 at 55-57.]
the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social
Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4),
the ALJ ultimately concluded that Ms. Spears is not disabled.
[Filing No. 17-2 at 36.] The ALJ found as follows:
• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms.
Spears meets the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2010, and has not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since her alleged ...