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Walters v. Berryhill

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

March 30, 2017

MARIE E. WALTERS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


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

         Plaintiff Marie E. Walters requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Walters'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.


         Walters protectively filed for SSI and DIB on October 11, 2012, alleging she became disabled on December 31, 2001.[2] Walters's application was denied initially on November 28, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on March 20, 2013. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Walters requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The hearing, during which Walters was represented by counsel, was held on January 14, 2014, before ALJ John R. Allen by video conference. The ALJ issued his decision on April 15, 2014, denying Walters's claims. Walters requested review by the Appeals Council, and on November 24, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision. Thereafter, Walters 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).[3] 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 twelvemonth 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 Allen determined at step one that Walters had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 2001, the alleged disability onset date. R. at 20. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Walters had the severe impairments of depression, anxiety, degenerative disc disease, and obesity, id. at 21, as well as the non-severe impairments of neck and shoulder problems and sleep apnea, id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Walters's impairments or combination of impairments did not meet or equal any Listing. Id. at 21-22. At step four, the ALJ determined that Walters had the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform medium work . . . except the claimant is limited to: simple, routine repetitive tasks, superficial contact with coworkers and the general public, occasional changes in work setting or assignment, and jobs that do not involve fast-paced production-type work.

Id. at 22.

         The ALJ determined that Walters was unable to perform past relevant work as a cashier, but would be capable of performing medium demand level work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 26-27. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Walters was not disabled as defined by the Act.

         IV. EVIDE ...

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