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Callahan v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

DEMIA R. CALLAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         On August 10, 2012, Demia R. Callahan filed a claim for disability insurance benefits alleging a disability onset date of March 11, 2011. [Filing No. 13-2 at 16.] Her claim was denied initially on October 17, 2012 and upon reconsideration on January 22, 2013. [Filing No. 13-2 at 16.] A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Ronald T. Jordan (the “ALJ”) on October 16, 2014. [Filing No. 13-2 at 16.] The ALJ issued a decision on December 9, 2014, determining that Ms. Callahan was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. [Filing No. 13-2 at 28.] The Appeals Council denied Ms. Callahan's request for review on February 9, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 13-2 at 2.] Ms. Callahan now seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asking this Court to review her denial of benefits. [Filing No. 1.]

         I.

         Standard of Review

         “The Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income to individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory definition of ‘disability' has two parts. First, it requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second it requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted or can be expected to last ... not less than 12 months.” Id. at 217.

         When an applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, “[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). Because the ALJ “is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, ” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the ALJ's credibility determination “considerable deference, ” overturning it only if it is “patently wrong.” Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

         The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence: “(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform his past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.” Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (alterations in original).

         “If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, [she] will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then [she] must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.” Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995). After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) by evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ “may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling.” Id.The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform her own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(E)(g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868. If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits “is appropriate only where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).

         II.

         Relevant Background

         Ms. Callahan was 40 years old on her disability onset date.[2] [Filing No. 13-2 at 27.] She completed some high school and earned a GED. [Filing No. 13-3 at 10.] Her previous work experience includes working as a nurse's aide, job coach, and waitress. [Filing No. 13-3 at 10.] Ms. Callahan seeks disability benefits because of functional limitations due to fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, chronic pain, and depression. [Filing No. 13-3 at 3.]

         Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ ultimately concluded that Ms. Callahan is not disabled. [Filing No. 13-2 at 28.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Callahan meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date.[3] [Filing No. 13-2 at 18.]
• At Step Two of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Callahan has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; fibromyalgia; migraines/headaches; depression; and anxiety disorders. [Filing No. 13-2 at 18.]
• At Step Three of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Callahan did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 13-2 at 19-21.] The ALJ considered various listings in making that conclusion, but ultimately ...

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