United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ERIN R. McDUGLE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
Matthew P. Brookman United States Magistrate Judge.
matter was consented to the Magistrate Judge under 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 73 to
conduct all proceedings. Plaintiff Erin R. McDugle seeks
judicial review of the Social Security Administration's
final decision deeming her ineligible for Disability
Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The
matter is fully briefed. (Docket No. 23, Docket
No. 28, Docket No. 29). For the reasons that
follow, this Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration finding that Plaintiff
Erin McDugle is not disabled.
December 10, 2012, Erin R. McDugle filed an application for
disability and Disability Insurance Benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act and for Social Security
Supplemental Security Income disability benefits under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act. She is
alleging disability beginning June 1, 2011. Her application
was denied initially and on reconsideration. A hearing was
requested and held on February 6, 2014, before Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) Julia D. Gibbs. On July 22, 2014, the ALJ
denied Ms. McDugle's application. On December 14, 2015,
the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's denial decision,
thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Social Security Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §
404.981; Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 833, 841
(7th Cir. 2007). On February 15, 2016, Ms. McDugle filed this
civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
review of the Commissioner's decision.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show she is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). Plaintiff is disabled if her impairments
are of such severity that she is not able to perform the work
she previously engaged in and, if based on her age,
education, and work experience, she cannot engage in any
other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(B). The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) has implemented these
statutory standards by prescribing a five-step sequential
evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if she is, then she is not disabled. Step
two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe. If they are not, then she is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis
of whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or
in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any
of the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the
Listings”). The Listings include medical conditions
defined by criteria that the SSA has pre-determined are
disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria
for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in
severity to the criteria for the most similar listed
impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled.
Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then her
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite her
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the
claimant has the RFC to perform her past relevant work, then
she is not disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is
work in the relevant economy that the claimant can perform,
based on her vocational profile (age, work experience, and
education) and her RFC. If so, then she is not disabled.
individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then
the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform, given her age, education, work
experience, and functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d
995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. This Court must affirm the ALJ's
decision unless it lacks the support of substantial evidence
or rests upon a legal error. See, e.g., Nelms v.
Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009); 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence
means evidence that a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion. Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ-
not the Court-holds discretion to weigh evidence, resolve
material conflicts, make independent factual findings, and
decide questions of credibility. Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399-400 (1971). Accordingly, the
Court may not re-evaluate facts, reweigh evidence, or
substitute its judgment for the ALJ's. See
Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055 (7th Cir.
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for her decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every
piece of evidence in her decision, but she cannot ignore a
line of evidence that undermines the conclusions he made. The
ALJ must trace the path of her reasoning and connect the
evidence to her findings and conclusions. Arnett v.
Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012); Clifford
v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).