United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
REGINA L. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch, United States Magistrate Judge
Regina L. Roberts applied for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, alleging disability since January 2011.
She later amended her alleged disability onset date to
December 12, 2012. Acting for the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration following a hearing held on December
23, 2014, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Ms.
Roberts is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of
the ALJ's decision on June 7, 2016, rendering the
ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Ms. Roberts
timely filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
review of the Commissioner's decision.
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the standard of review and then address
Ms. Roberts's assertions of error.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show she is unable 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)
(DIB benefits); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI
benefits). Ms. Roberts is disabled if her impairments
are of such severity that she is not able to perform the work
she previously engaged in and, if based on her age,
education, and work experience, she cannot engage in any
other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(A). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) has implemented these statutory standards
by, in part, prescribing a five-step sequential evaluation
process for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. §
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if she is, then she is not disabled. Step
two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe; if they are not, then she is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the
claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination,
meet or medically equal the criteria of any of the conditions
in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes medical
conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has predetermined
are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the
criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical findings
equal in severity to the criteria for the most similar listed
impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and
qualifies for benefits. Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d
424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then her
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite her
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the
RFC to perform her past relevant work, then she is not
disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the
relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on her
age, work experience, education, and RFC; if so, then she is
individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then
the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform, given her age, education, work
experience, and functional capacity. Young v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R.
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of
law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence means evidence that a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a
scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a
preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246
F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for the decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ's decision need
not address every piece of evidence, but the ALJ cannot
ignore an entire line of evidence that undermines his
conclusions, and he must provide sufficient detail to allow a
reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning.
Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012).
The ALJ's Sequential Findings
Roberts was 45 years old on the alleged disability onset
date, and 47 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision.
The ALJ found that she met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012, and she
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since that
date. At steps two and three, he found that Ms. Roberts has
severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, diabetes
mellitus with neuropathy, and obesity, but no impairment or
impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of a
listed impairment. The ALJ also determined that Ms. Roberts
had several non-severe impairments, including COPD, bilateral
carpal tunnel syndrome status post trigger finger surgery,
RFC, the ALJ limited Ms. Roberts to perform light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)
“with only occasional lifting of 20 pounds; frequent,
as opposed to constant, lifting of 10 pounds; standing for
six hours in an eight-hour workday, sitting for six hours in
an eight-hour workday; only occasional stair climbing,
stooping, balancing, kneeling, crouching, crawling; and only
occasional exposure to hot and cold temperature extremes,
humidity, and vibrations.” (R. 25). With this RFC, and
based on the opinion of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ
decided that Ms. Roberts is capable of performing her past
relevant work as a cashier and retail store manager.
Accordingly, he decided at step four that Ms. Roberts is not
disabled. The ALJ did not reach step five.
Ms. Roberts's ...