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Crawford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

February 27, 2017

ANGELA M. CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Angela M. Crawford on February 9, 2016, and Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 14], filed on June 15, 2016. The Commissioner filed a response on September 20, 2016, and Plaintiff filed a reply on October 5, 2016.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff first filed for supplemental security income on June 22, 2012. Her claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff then asked for a hearing before one of the Agency's administrative law judges (ALJs), which took place on August 7, 2014, before ALJ Mario G. Silva. The ALJ held a supplemental video hearing on September 5, 2014. Plaintiff's main representative was attorney Thomas J. Scully, but she was represented by Scully's associate Veda P. Dasari at the hearings.

         The ALJ issued a written decision on September 11, 2014, concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled based on the following findings.

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 22, 2012, the application date.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: status post fracture of the pelvis, right ankle, and coccyx, degenerative joint disease of the right hip, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and depression.
3. 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, Appendix 1.
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). Specifically, the claimant can frequently lift up to twenty pounds, frequently carry ten pounds, and occasionally carry twenty [pounds]. The claimant is able to sit, stand, or walk for one hour [at a] time. The claimant is able to sit for six hours, stand for one hour, and walk for one hour in [an] eight-hour workday. The claimant is able to reach in all directions, including overhead, as well [as] handle and finger on a frequent basis bilaterally. The claimant can occasionally push and pull. The claimant can never operate foot controls with her right foot but can occasionally operate foot control[s] with her left foot. The claimant never [sic] climb ladders, ramps, or scaffolds and never crawl, but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs as well as balance, stoop, kneel or crouch. The claimant must avoid all exposure to unprotected height to unprotected heights [sic] and dangerous moving machinery. The claimant is limited to occasional exposure to fumes and pulmonary irritants. The claimant is limited to no more than occasional exposure to heat or cold. The claimant must avoid all exposure to vibrations. The claimant is limited to occasional exposure to wetness and humidity. The claimant is limited to unskilled work and is able to understand or remember simple instructions and make judgment on simple work related decisions and is able to interact appropriately with coworkers and supervisors on routine work stetting [sic]. The claimant is able to respond to usual situations and to changes in routine work setting. The claimant must be allowed to work at a flexible pace, free of fast paced production requirements. The claimant's work must not require tandem tasks or teamwork, where one production step is dependent upon a prior step.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
6. The claimant was born [in 1966] and was 45 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date the application was filed [sic]. The claimant subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49.
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English.
8. 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 disabiled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
9. 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.
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since June 22, 2012, the date the application was filed.

         (AR 46-55). Plaintiff then sought review before the Agency's Appeals Council, which denied her request on December 16, 2015, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. On February 9, 2016, Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the Agency's decision.

         The 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. § 405(g).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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 adequate to support a conclusion.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003)).

         A court reviews the entire administrative record but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ “uses the correct legal standards and the decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). “[I]f the Commissioner commits an error of law, ” the Court may reverse the decision “without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings.” White v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997)).

         At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ must “‘build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion' so that [a reviewing court] may assess the validity of the agency's final decision and afford [a claimant] meaningful review.” Giles v. Astrue, 483 F.3d 483, 487 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Scott, 297 F.3d at 595)); see also O'Connor-Spinner, 627 F.3d at 618 (“An ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence, but must provide a ‘logical bridge' ...


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