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Blankenship v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 29, 2017

MARGARET A. BLANKENSHIP, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          William C. Lee, Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the court for judicial review of a final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as provided for in the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §416(I). Section 205(g) of the Act provides, inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer, the [Commissioner] shall file a certified copy of the transcript of the record including the evidence upon which the findings and decision complained of are based. The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the case for a rehearing." It also provides, "[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         The law provides that an applicant for disability insurance benefits must establish an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3). It is not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an impairment exists. It must be shown that the impairment is severe enough to preclude the plaintiff from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Gotshaw v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840 (7th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 945 (1963); Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp. 1098 (N.D.Ill. 1979). It is well established that the burden of proving entitlement to disability insurance benefits is on the plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d 36 (7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v. Cohen, 425 F.2d 20 (7th Cir. 1970).

         Given the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this court] is whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] findings." Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial evidence is defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984) quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v. Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed, 42 U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of law." Garfield, supra at 607; see also Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).

         In the present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 19, 2008, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: low back pain and polyarthritis; carpal tunnel syndrome with a history of right-sided release surgery and trigger thumb of the left hand; obesity; hyperlipidemia; reported heart palpitations; allergic rhinitis; depression; anxiety; and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)(20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) (i.e. lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sitting up to 6/8 hours in an eight hour workday), except for the following additional limitations: she can do only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; frequent bilateral handling and fingering; must avoid concentrated exposure to extremes of temperature, humidity, wetness, and pulmonary irritants (i.e. fumes, odors, dust, gases, poorly ventilated areas and chemicals); must avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards such as dangerous moving machinery, work at unprotected height and work on slippery/uneven/moving surfaces. Mentally, the claimant is precluded from understanding, remembering or carrying out detailed or complex job instructions; cannot perform tasks requiring intense/focused attention for prolonged periods of time; limited to occasional work in close proximity to others to minimize distractions; must have work at a flexible pace (where the employee is allowed some independence in determining either the timing of different work activities or pace of work); allow only casual/superficial interaction with others including supervisors, coworkers and the general public; and no exposure to intense or critical supervision.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on May 3, 1967, and was 41 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled ...

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