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Dorris v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

January 25, 2017

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



         Plaintiff Karen Dorris 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”). The Court rules as follows.


         Dorris filed an application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on May 11, 2012, alleging onset of disability on May 28, 2009. The Social Security Administration initially denied Dorris's application on August 2, 2012. After Dorris timely requested reconsideration, the Social Security Administration again denied her claim on October 15, 2012. Thereafter, Dorris requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a video hearing in which Dorris and Clifford Brady, a vocational expert, testified on January 17, 2014. The ALJ issued his hearing decision denying Dorris's DIB application on April 4, 2014. After the Appeals Council denied Dorris's request for review, Dorris filed this action seeking judicial review.


         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. § 404.1520(b). 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. § 404.1520(c). 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 twelvemonth duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

         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.” Id.


         The ALJ found at step one that Dorris had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 28, 2009, the alleged disability onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Dorris had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine; status post cervical and lumbar fusion; osteoarthritis in the bilateral knees; status post left knee replacement; carpal tunnel syndrome; and hypertension. The ALJ found at step three that these impairments did not, individually or in combination, meet the severity of one of the listed impairments. The ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was as follows:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk 6 hours in an 8 hour workday, and sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour workday. Claimant can frequently, but not constantly, reach overhead, handle and finger bilaterally, she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel and crouch, but she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, she can never crawl, and she should avoid concentrated exposure to extremes of heat and cold, as well as wet, slippery surfaces, and she should avoid concentrated exposure to hazards such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights.

         Record at 21. On the basis of this RFC determination, the ALJ concluded at step four that Dorris was unable to perform any of her past relevant work, but at step five, the ALJ found that, considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC, Dorris could perform certain unskilled jobs, such as production assembler, bench assembler, and small products assembler, that exist in significant numbers in the national and regional economies. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Dorris was not disabled.


         The details of Dorris's medical history are set forth quite thoroughly in the parties' briefs and the ALJ's decision and need not be repeated here. Facts directly relevant to ...

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