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Hunter v. Berryhill

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

March 8, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge.

         Plaintiff Kristine D. Hunter, née Impson, (“Hunter”) requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Hunter's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Insurance Benefits (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, now rules as follows.


         Hunter protectively filed for DIB on April 3, 2012, alleging she became disabled on September 1, 2011. She filed for SSI on April 4, 2012. Hunter's application was denied initially on August 20, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on December 10, 2012. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Hunter requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The hearing, during which Hunter was represented by counsel, was held on June 6, 2014, before ALJ Angelita Hamilton by video conference. The ALJ issued her decision on August 8, 2014, denying Hunter's claims. Hunter requested review by the Appeals Council, and on October 16, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision. Thereafter, Hunter filed this timely appeal.


         Disability is defined as “the inability 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent him from doing not only his previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy, considering his 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, he is not disabled, despite his medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i).[2] At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities), he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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 twelve- month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled, 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         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, Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” he must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and [his] conclusion that a claimant is not disabled.” Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). “If a decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, a remand is required.” Id. (citation omitted).


         ALJ Hamilton determined at step one that Hunter had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2011, the alleged disability onset date. Record at 17. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Hunter had the severe impairments endocarditis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), arthritis, and Hepatitis C, id. at 17, as well as the non-severe impairments of fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and DAA opioid abuse in remission, id. at 20.[3] At step three, the ALJ determined that Hunter's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal any Listing. Id. at 21. At step four, the ALJ determined that Hunter had the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform light work . . . . The claimant can occasionally climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds; frequently climb ramps/stairs. The claimant can frequently balance, stoop and kneel. She can occasionally crouch and crawl. She would have occasional exposure to extreme temperatures, exposure to wetness/humidity and exposure to environmental irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts and gases. The claimant could have frequent exposure to raw chemicals or solutions, moving machinery and unprotected heights.

         R. at 22.

         The ALJ determined that Hunter was unable to perform past relevant work, but would be capable of performing light work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. R. at 23-24. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Hunter was not disabled as defined by the Act.

         IV. EVIDE ...

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