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Veldhuizen v. Berryhill

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

March 16, 2017

MICHELE G. VELDHUIZEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Michele G. Veldhuizen on November 12, 2015, and Plaintiff's Brief [DE 10], filed by Plaintiff on March 14, 2016. Plaintiff requests that the January 17, 2014 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim for disability insurance benefits be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On May 23, 2016, the Commissioner filed a response. Plaintiff has not filed a reply brief, and the time to do so has passed. For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's request for remand.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on July 5, 2011, alleging disability since January 1, 2009. The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. On April 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing. On October 30, 2013, Administrative Law Judge David R. Bruce (“ALJ”) held a hearing. In attendance at the hearing were Plaintiff, Plaintiff's attorney, a non-attorney representative, and an impartial vocational expert. On January 17, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits, making the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2016.
2. The claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity during the following periods: 01/2009 through 12/2010.
3. However, there has been a continuous 12-month period(s) during which the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity. The remaining findings address the period(s) the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity.
4. The claimant has the following severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, obesity, bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and alcohol and drug dependence in remission.
5. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
6. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with exceptions. Specifically, the claimant is able to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk up to 6 hours in an 8-hour workday and sit up to 6 hour in an 8-hour workday. She is never to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds or crawl, but may occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and balance, stoop, kneel and crouch. In addition, she is to avoid vibration and slippery or uneven surfaces. Mentally, the claimant is able to remember, understand and carry-out simple tasks and is limited to making simple work related decisions. She is able to have frequent superficial interaction with her supervisors, co-workers and the public. Further, any time off her tasks can be accommodated by normal breaks.
7. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
8. The claimant was born [in 1965] and was 43 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date.
9. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English.
10. 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 disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
11. 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.
12. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2009, through the date of this decision.

(AR 32-47).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) 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. Therefore, this Court 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' between the evidence and his conclusions.”); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [the] decision to deny benefits.”).

         DISABILITY STANDARD

         To be eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must establish that she suffers from a “disability” as defined by the Social Security Act and regulations. The Act defines “disability” as an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To be found disabled, the claimant's impairment must not only prevent her from doing her previous work, but considering her age, education, and work experience, it must also ...


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