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Utley v. Berryhill

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

August 24, 2017

LATRICE UTLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Latrice Utley filed for supplemental security income on April 27, 2012 and disability insurance benefits on May 3, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2012. [Filing No. 16-2 at 20.] Her applications were denied initially, [Filing No. 16-4 at 4; Filing No. 16-4 at 8], and upon reconsideration, [Filing No. 16-4 at 13; Filing No. 16-4 at 20]. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) D. Lyndell Pickett held a hearing on September 17, 2014. [Filing No. 16-2 at 38.] On October 21, 2014, the ALJ issued an opinion concluding that Ms. Utley was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. [Filing No. 16-2 at 20-31.] The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 16-2 at 20-31.] Ms. Utley filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asking this 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.” 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.

         When an 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 to support 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 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, 55 F.3d 309, 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. See20 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.

         Background

         Ms. Utley was thirty-seven years old at the time she applied for social security benefits. [Filing No. 16-3 at 2.] She has obtained a GED and performed past relevant work as a baker, laborer, lead coordinator, and machinist. [Filing No. 16-6 at 6.][1]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and ultimately concluded that Ms. Utley is not disabled. [Filing No. 16-2 at 20-31.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One, the ALJ found that Ms. Utley has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2012, the date of her application for benefits. [Filing No. 16-2 at 22.]
• At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Utley has the following severe impairments: morbid obesity, degenerative disc disease in the cervical and lumbar spine, left hip ...

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