United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
Earnestine D. Combs, Plaintiff,
Nancy Berryhill,  Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S
JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE.
Earnestine Combs applied for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income from the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) on May 20, 2013,
alleging an onset date of March 29, 2013. [Filing No. 14-6 at
9-14.] Her applications were initially denied on July 5,
2013, [Filing No. 14-4 at 4-21], and upon reconsideration on
August 21, 2013, [Filing No. 14-4 at 22-35]. Administrative
Law Judge Hortensia Haaversen (the
“ALJ”) held a hearing on January 22,
2015, [Filing No. 14-2 at 43-59], and issued a decision on
April 6, 2015, concluding that Ms. Combs was not entitled to
receive disability insurance benefits or supplemental
security income, [Filing No. 14-2 at 23-42]. The Appeals
Council denied review on August 18, 2016. [Filing No. 14-2 at
2-7.] On September 6, 2016, Ms. Combs timely filed this civil
action, asking the Court to review the denial of benefits
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c). [Filing No. 1.] Ms. Combs also filed a Motion to
Strike, [Filing No. 23], which the Court will consider
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.
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
must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in
(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
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, [he] will
automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies
steps one and two, but not three, then [he] 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).
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 his 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.
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
Combs was fifty-four years old when she filed for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. [Filing
No. 14-6 at 9-14.] Using the five-step sequential evaluation
set forth by the SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the
ALJ issued an opinion on April 6, 2015, determining that Ms.
Combs was not entitled to receive disability insurance
benefits or supplemental security income. [Filing No. 14-2 at
36.] The ALJ found as follows:
• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms.
Combs had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since March 29, 2013, the alleged onset
date. [Filing No. 14-2 at 29.]
• At Step Two of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms.
Combs suffers from the following severe impairment:
hypertension. [Filing No. 14-2 at 29-31.]
• At Step Three of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms.
Combs did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 14-2 at 31.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, the ALJ found
that Ms. Combs had the RFC to perform the full range of light
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and
20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b). [Filing No. 14-2 at 32-36.]
• At Step Four of the analysis, the ALJ found that Ms.
Combs is able to perform past relevant work as a service
clerk and a book distributor and that this work does not
require the performance of work-related ...