United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
R. CHERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by
Plaintiff Trisha Spurlock on December 2, 2015, and an Opening
Brief [DE 20], filed by Plaintiff on May 25, 2016. Plaintiff
requests that the Court reverse the July 17, 2014 decision of
the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim for disability
insurance benefits and make a direct award of benefits or,
alternatively, remand for further proceedings. On August 31,
2016, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed
a reply on September 15, 2016. Because the ALJ did not
properly evaluate Dr. Kelly Hird's medical opinions under
the treating physician rule, the Court grants Plaintiff's
request for remand.
filed for disability insurance benefits on September 1, 2011.
Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held on June
6, 2013, and presided over by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Victoria A. Ferrer. Present at the hearing were Plaintiff,
Plaintiff's attorney, and an impartial vocational expert.
the hearing, the ALJ sent Plaintiff for a psychological
consultative examination with Michael Stone, Psy.D. Following
proffer of Dr. Stone's report and medical opinion to
Plaintiff, Plaintiff requested a supplemental hearing to
question Dr. Stone and requested that the ALJ issue a
subpoena to Dr. Stone requiring him to appear and testify at
the supplemental hearing. Both requests were granted, with
Dr. Stone to appear telephonically. At the supplemental
hearing, Dr. Stone did not appear despite multiple attempts
to contact him via telephone. The ALJ sent Plaintiff for
another psychological consultative examination, which was
conducted by John Brauer, Psy.D.
issued a written decision on July 17, 2014, concluding that
Plaintiff was not disabled based on the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 15, 2010, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chronic
migraines and chronic headaches; minor motor seizures;
dementia, NOS; and adjustment disorder with mixed emotional
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: she can
frequently climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; she
should avoid concentrated extreme cold, extreme heat and
vibration; she can work in environments with moderate noise
intensity; she can never work with hazardous machines with
moving mechanical parts or in high exposed places; and she
can occasionally work on computers. She is able to perform
simple, routine, repetitive tasks; to understand remember,
and carry out simple instructions; to adapt to occasional
changes in the work setting; and to make decisions
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1981] and was 29 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the
alleged disability onset date.
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from September 15, 2010, through
the date of this decision.
(AR 17-26). Plaintiff then sought review before the
Agency's Appeals Council, which denied her request on
October 1, 2015, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final
decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.981. On December 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed this civil
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) for review of
the Agency's decision.
parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to
a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further
proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in
this case. This Court thus has jurisdiction to decide this
case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. §
Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final
decision of the agency and indicates that the
Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ
will reverse only if the findings are not supported by
substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous
legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d
345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as ...