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Smith v. Berryhill

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

June 5, 2017

LORRI A. SMITH, 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 June 17, 2013, Plaintiff Lorri A. Smith filed a claim for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act ("SSA") alleging a disability onset date of June 4, 2013. [Filing No. 14 at 23.] Ms. Smith filed a claim for supplemental security income under the SSA on June 26, 2013 also alleging a disability onset date of June 4, 2013. [Filing No. 14 at 23.] Her claims were denied initially on October 8, 2013 and upon reconsideration on December 3, 2013. [Filing No. 14 at 23.] Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Sorg-Graves ("ALJ") held a hearing on January 21, 2015. [Filing No. 14 at 23.] On February 3, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision determining that Ms. Smith was not disabled as defined by the SSA. [Filing No. 14 at 30.] The Appeals Council denied Ms. Smith's request for review on June 24, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 14 at 5.] Ms. Smith filed this civil action on August 22, 2016 seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c), asking the 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." Barnhartv. 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, the Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALTs decision. Barnettv. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, "[substantial 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), the 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 her 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, 55F.3d309, 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. Smith was 53 years old at the time she applied for social security disability benefits.[2][FilingNo. 14 at 187.] She has completed 2 years of college. [Filing No. 14 at 206.] Herprevious work experience includes working as a bus driver, billing clerk, and life insurance salesperson. [Filing No. 14 at 212-217.] 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. Smith is not disabled. [Filing No. 14 at 30.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms. Smith had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged ...

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