United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, CHIEF JUDGE
Plaintiff, Darla Harris-Glowacki, seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration denying her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB). The Plaintiff claims that she would
be unable to maintain substantial gainful employment due to
limitations brought about by various physical and mental
October 2012, the Plaintiff filed a claim for DIB, alleging
disability beginning on March 15, 2012. The claim was denied
initially, and upon reconsideration. The Plaintiff sought
appeal of those determinations and filed a request for a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In April
2014, the Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney,
appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. A
vocational expert (VE) also testified. On April 22, 2014, the
ALJ issued a written decision, in which she concluded that
the Plaintiff was not disabled because she was capable of
performing unskilled sedentary work in such jobs as
addresser, taper, paper printed circuit layout, surveillance
monitor, and hand mounter. The Plaintiff sought review of the
ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which denied
review. The Plaintiff seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C.
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be used in determining whether the
claimant has established a disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); see also 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A) (defining a disability under the Social
Security Act as being 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”); id. § 423(d)(2)(A) (requiring
an applicant to show that his “impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy”). The first
step is to determine whether the claimant is presently
engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Here, the ALJ
found that the Plaintiff was not engaged in SGA, so she moved
to the second step, which is to determine whether the
claimant had a “severe” impairment or combination
impairment is “severe” if it significantly limits
the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic
work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). The ALJ
determined that the Plaintiff's severe impairments were
obesity, fibromyalgia, right knee osteoarthritis and medial
meniscus derangement, post-traumatic stress disorder, and
depression. The ALJ also discussed some of the
Plaintiff's other physical impairments, but determined
that they were not severe.
three, the ALJ considered whether the Plaintiff's
impairments, or combination of impairments, met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the impairments listed by the
Administration as being so severe that it presumptively
precludes SGA. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
1. The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's impairments did
not meet Listing 12.04 for depressive, bipolar, and related
disorders, or Listing 12.06 for anxiety and
obsessive-compulsive disorders. She reasoned that the
Plaintiff's restrictions in each of the “paragraph
B” criteria were moderate, but not marked.
Additionally, the record did not contain evidence that the
Plaintiff had experienced any episodes of decompensation,
which had been of extended duration.
the ALJ was required, at step four, to determine the
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is
an assessment of the claimant's ability to perform
sustained work-related physical and mental activities in
light of her impairments. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1
(July 2, 1996). The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff had the
RFC to frequently lift twenty pounds and occasionally lift
ten pounds,  and that she could stand or walk for two
hours in an eight-hour day, as well as sit for six hours in
an eight-hour day. Additionally, the Plaintiff could
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel,
and crawl, but should never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. The Plaintiff was to also avoid hazardous
machinery and unprotected heights. To address the limitations
caused by the Plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ
concluded that she was limited to simple, routine and
repetitive tasks and could respond appropriately to
supervisors, co-workers, and the public only on an occasional
making these findings, the ALJ considered the Plaintiff's
testimony regarding the symptoms caused by her impairments.
The ALJ acknowledged that the Plaintiff's medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to
cause the alleged symptoms. However, she did not find
credible the Plaintiff's allegations related to her
fibromyalgia and her PTSD and depression. With respect to the
limitations caused by her physical impairments, the ALJ gave
great weight to the opinion of the Plaintiff's treating
specialist, and some weight to the state agency medical
consultant's opinion. For the mental impairments, the ALJ
considered the opinions of two treating specialists and three
state agency specialists. The ALJ gave little weight to the
opinions of the treating psychiatrist and treating
psychologist, who had assigned severe functional limitations
and opined that the Plaintiff was not capable of sustaining
competitive work on a regular and continuing basis. The ALJ
assigned more restrictions than those found by the
psychological consultants, but fewer than those found by the
consultative examiner, whose opinion the ALJ afforded little
the Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a
hairstylist, at the final step of the evaluation, the ALJ
determined that the Plaintiff could perform other work in
unskilled sedentary occupations that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy.
decision of the ALJ is the final decision of the Commissioner
when the Appeals Council denies a request for review.
Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir.
2009). A 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 is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be
“more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). 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, and the decision cannot stand if it lacks
evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the
is not required to address every piece of evidence or
testimony presented, but the ALJ must provide a
“logical bridge” between the evidence and the
conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th
Cir. 2009). If the Commissioner commits an error of law,
remand is warranted without regard to the volume of ...