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Hughes v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 2, 2017

RITA D. HUGHES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.

          ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Rita D. Hughes requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Hughes' applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, rules as follows.

         I. APPLICABLE STANDARD

         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 which 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).[2] 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. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her 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 her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” she must “provide some glimpse into her reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Hughes protectively filed for DIB and SSI on March 6, 2014, alleging that she became disabled on May 23, 2013, primarily due to obesity, chronic lower back pain secondary to degenerative changes and multiple previous surgeries, and diabetes. Hughes was born on February 27, 1957, and was 56 years old on the alleged disability onset date. Hughes has a Bachelor's degree in social work, and has past relevant work as a casework supervisor, caseworker, and case manager.

         Hughes' application was denied initially on June 4, 2014, and upon reconsideration on July 7, 2014. Thereafter, Hughes requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). A video hearing, during which Hughes was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ Julia D. Gibbs on March 24, 2015. The ALJ issued her decision denying Hughes' claim on June 20, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, Hughes filed this timely appeal.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ determined that Hughes has met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. The ALJ determined at step one that Hughes had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 23, 2013, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Hughes had the severe impairments of “obesity, chronic lower back pain secondary to degenerative changes and multiple previous surgeries, and diabetes without evidence of diabetic retinopathy, ” Record at 27, and that the impairments more than minimally limited Hughes' ability to perform the full range of basic work activities and therefore were severe within the meaning of the Regulations. The ALJ found that Hughes did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). At step four, the ALJ determined that Hughes had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). R. at 28. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that Hughes was capable of performing her past relevant work as a Caseworker Supervisor (Family) (D.O.T.#:195.137-010, sedentary, SVP 7, performed at medium), Caseworker (D.O.T.#:195.107-010, sedentary, SVP 7), and Case Manager (D.O.T.#:195-107-030, sedentary, SVP 7). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Hughes was not disabled as defined by the Act.

         IV. EVIDENCE OF RECORD

         The relevant medical evidence of record is aptly set forth in Hughes' brief (Dkt. No. 15) and need not be recited here. Specific facts are set forth in the discussion section below where relevant.

         V. ...


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