United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division, Lafayette
OPINION AND ORDER
case, plaintiff Misty Dawn Hudson appeals the denial of her
claim for social security benefits. She argues that an injury
she suffered to her lower back left her unable to work, and
that the Administrative Law Judge's decision to the
contrary is erroneous. For the following reasons, the Court
remands this case to the Commissioner for further
Dawn Hudson worked as a UPS delivery driver for about 13
years, until she injured her lower back on the job in August
2008 while lifting a heavy delivery. After more conservative
treatment failed to improve her condition, she underwent
spinal surgery in January 2009. The surgery was not
successful, though. Besides failing to alleviate Ms.
Hudson's back pain, the surgery left her with
neurological symptoms including left foot drop and pain
radiating into her legs. She then attended physical therapy
and work conditioning for much of the rest of the year, with
a fair degree of improvement, but she did not improve to the
point that she was able to return to her previous job. Due to
her continuing symptoms, Ms. Hudson continued seeking
treatment. In August 2011, Ms. Hudson had a spinal cord
stimulator implanted, and in May 2012, she had another
surgery to remove the hardware that had been inserted during
her first surgery. She was released from her doctor's
care in July 2012.
2012, Ms. Hudson filed a claim for social security disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income,
asserting that she became disabled following her injury in
2008. An Administrative Law Judge later held a hearing and
issued a decision. She found that Ms. Hudson could perform
sedentary work with a number of limitations, and that a
sufficient number of jobs existed that a person with Ms.
Hudson's limitations could perform, so Ms. Hudson did not
qualify as disabled under the Social Security Act. The
Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the agency. Ms. Hudson timely filed a
complaint seeking judicial review of that decision, and this
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
and § 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This 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 Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this 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 his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (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).
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
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
listed in ...