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Rardin v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

DAWN M. RARDIN, Plaintiff,



         This is an action for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, finding Plaintiff Dawn M. Rardin not entitled to social security supplemental insurance (“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382(a). Ms. Rardin has appealed the adverse determination, which was referred to Magistrate Judge Magistrate Judge Matthew P. Brookman for issuance of a Report and Recommendation. The Report and Recommendation proposes that the Commissioner's decision be remanded for further analysis in keeping with the applicable law. The Commissioner has filed a timely objection. For the reasons explained in this Order, we OVERRULE the Commissioner's objections, ADOPT the conclusions of the Magistrate Judge, and REMAND this case to the Social Security Administration for further consideration.

         Standard for Proving Disability

         To be eligible for SSI or DIB, a claimant such as Ms. Rardin must have a disability as defined by 42 U.S.C. § 423, that is, an “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.” The claimant bears the burden of providing evidence that she is disabled, and must show through record evidence that an impairment from which she suffers meets all applicable criteria. See, e.g., Ribaudo v. Barnhart, 458 F.3d 580, 583 (7th Cir. 2006). The Commissioner acting by and through an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis in making an eligibility determination: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled despite his medical condition and other factors; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled; (3) the Commissioner then determines whether the claimant's impairment or a combination thereof meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments at 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 disabled; (4) if the claimant can perform her past relevant work given his Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”), she is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. This case presents a “step three” appeal.

         Applicable Standard of Review

         The Court reviews the Commissioner's denial of benefits to determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or is the result of an error of law. Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 361-62 (7th Cir. 2015). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). An ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of “all the relevant evidence, ” without ignoring probative factors. Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). In other words, the ALJ need not address every piece of evidence in her decision, but she cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines her conclusions, and she must trace the path of her reasoning and connect the evidence to her findings and conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012). We confine the scope of our review to the rationale offered by the ALJ. See SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 93-95 (1943); Tumminaro v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2011).

         When a party raises specific objections to elements of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district judge reviews those elements de novo, determining for herself whether the Commissioner's decision as to those issues is supported by substantial evidence or was the result of an error of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The district judge “makes the ultimate decision to adopt, reject, or modify” the report and recommendation, and it need not accept any portion as binding; the [judge] may, however, defer to those conclusions of the report and recommendation to which timely objections have not been raised by a party. See Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs, Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 759-61 (7th Cir. 2009). We have conducted a de novo review here.

         Background and Procedural History[1]

         Ms. Rardin maintains that she became disabled in January 2010 at age forty-eight. On November 28, 2012, she filed an application for SSI and DBI, alleging that she suffered from depression along with a number of physical impairments identified more fully below. Docket No. 13-2 (Tr.) at 34-74. The documents of record reflect, inter alia, that Ms. Rardin has an eighth grade education and experiences difficulty with following instructions and paying attention for longer than 30-minute periods. Docket No. 13-3 (R.) at 79.

         Following the Social Security Administration's initial denial of Ms. Rardin's applications for DIB and SSI and on reconsideration, she appeared at a hearing during which an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) engaged in the sequential five-step analysis, concluding that Ms. Rardin was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act for the relevant period of time. Docket No. 13-2 (Dec.) at 15-21. The ALJ's dispositive finding was that, although Ms. Rardin was severely impaired by lumbar degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis in her left shoulder, tendonitis following arthroscopic surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, secondary tobacco use disorder, coronary artery disease and hypertension, obesity, fibromyalgia, and an affect and anxiety disorder, these impairments, neither individually, nor in combination, did not meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. Dec. at 18-21. This appeal also challenges the ALJ's credibility-oriented finding that “the claimant's failure to follow her prescribed regimen detracted from her allegations regarding the severity and limiting nature of her severe musculoskeletal impairments.” Dec. at 24.

         Ms. Rardin sought further review, culminating in the Appeals Council denial of her request on January 12, 2016. R. at 2. At this point, the Commissioner's decision became final, Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015), and Ms. Rardin timely exercised her right to judicial review of the Commissioner's adverse decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Before this court, Ms. Rardin has argued that: (1) the ALJ erred by discrediting her reports of subjective complaints regarding fibromylgia; (2) the ALJ “unjustly accused Rardin of alleged noncompliance with treatment”; (3) the ALJ failed to provide an explanation regarding the finding that Rardin's impairments do not meet or equal Listing 1.04 and to obtain medical opinion as to the possible equaling of this with other conditions set out in the Listings. Docket No. 16 (Pl.'s Br.) at 14-32.

         The case was referred by this judge to Magistrate Judge Brookman for initial decision. On February 6, 2016, Magistrate Judge Brookman issued a Report and Recommendation finding that the Commissioner's decision should be remanded under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration. The Magistrate concluded that the ALJ did not sufficiently analyze whether Ms. Rardin's fibromyalgia met or medically equaled one of the listings (Docket No. 23 (R&R) at 11-12) and erred in not determining whether good cause for her non-compliance with treatment methods existed before using it as a basis to discount her credibility (id at 12-15). The Magistrate Judge also held that the ALJ did not err in analyzing Ms. Rardin's subjective complaints about fibromyalgia (id at 7-11); in assessing her limitations in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, memory deficit, or severe daytime fatigue (id at 15-19); or in concluding that Ms. Rardin's impairments did not meet or equal listing 1.04, a spinal disorder compromising, among other things the ...

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