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Hopkins v. Berryhill

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

March 23, 2017

PAMELA JEAN HOPKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.

          ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge.

         Plaintiff Pamela Jean Hopkins requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Hopkins' 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), he 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. 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).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Hopkins protectively filed for DIB and SSI on May 22, 2012, alleging that she became disabled on February 16, 2012, due to various medical conditions. Hopkins' application was denied initially on September 14, 2012, and upon reconsideration on January 7, 2013.

         Thereafter, Hopkins requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). A video hearing, during which Hopkins was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ Mario G. Silva on September 3, 2014. An impartial vocational expert also appeared and testified at the hearing. Hopkins submitted post-hearing evidence regarding the duties of a school nurse as actually peformed by one of Hopkins' colleagues. The ALJ issued his decision denying Hopkins' claim on October 14, 2014. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, Hopkins filed this timely appeal.

         Hopkins was born on March 19, 1959. She graduated from high school and has two years of post-high school education. She was engaged in substantial gainful activity through May 2012; however, there was a continuous 12-month period during which she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. She has past relevant work as a school nurse.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined that Hopkins had engaged in substantial gainful activity through May 2012, because she had not carried her burden of proof showing that the two-month return to work after a six-week medical leave of absence was an unsuccessful work attempt. However, the ALJ determined that there had been a continuous 12-month period during which the claimant was not engaged in successful gainful activity. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded the claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: chronic cervical pain syndrome status post remote multilevel cervical fusion, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with residual right sided radiculopathy, and brachial neuritis or radiculitis, but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Hopkins had the following Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”):

[T]he claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and she can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel and crouch, but she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and she can never crawl. The claimant is further limited to no more than occasional rotation of the neck, from side to side, she can occasionally reach overhead bilaterally, and she can frequently reach in all other directions bilaterally, but she is unable to extend her bilateral upper extremity reach more than 18 inches from the body, and she is further limited to no more than occasional exposure to hazards such as dangerous moving machinery or unprotected heights, and no more than occasional exposure to vibration.

Id. The ALJ concluded Hopkins was able to perform her past relevant work as a school nurse. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Hopkins was not disabled ...


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