United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
ANNIE L. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
R. CHERRY, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by
Plaintiff Annie L. Williams on June 14, 2016, and
Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 14], filed by
Plaintiff on December 27, 2016. Plaintiff requests that the
January 22, 2015 decision of the Administrative Law Judge
denying her claim for supplemental security income be
reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On March 31,
2017, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed
a reply on May 1, 2017. For the following reasons, the Court
denies Plaintiff's request for remand.
filed her initial application for supplemental security
income on December 17, 2012, alleging disability since
September 21, 2012. The claim was denied initially and on
reconsideration, and she requested a hearing, which was held
before ALJ Janice M. Bruning (ALJ) on September 19, 2014. On
January 22, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
making the following findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 17, 2012, the application date.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: carpal
tunnel syndrome, depression, and degenerative changes of the
3. 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,
4. 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 416.967(b) except she cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds and no more than occasionally climb ramps/stairs,
balance, kneel, stoop, crouch, crawl, bend, or twist. She can
no more than frequently use her hands to finger. She should
avoid concentrated exposure to wetness. She should avoid all
exposure to work hazards (such as unprotected heights and
dangerous moving machinery). She is limited to performing
simple repeated routine tasks with no contact with the public
and no more than occasional interaction with coworkers and
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
6. The claimant was born [in 1964] and was 47 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the
date the application was filed.
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English.
8. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills.
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, since December 17, 2012, the date
the application was filed.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the
parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to
a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further
proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in
this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide
this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C.
Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final
decision of the agency and indicates that the
Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ
will reverse only if the findings are not supported by
substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous
legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d
345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir.
2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470
(7th Cir. 2003)).
reviews the entire administrative record but does not
reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir.
2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th
Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055
(7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of
an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the
claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ
“uses the correct legal standards and the decision is
supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v.
Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618
(7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d
731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart,
381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). “[I]f the
Commissioner commits an error of law, ” the Court may
reverse the decision “without regard to the volume of
evidence in support of the factual findings.” White
v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing
Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir.
minimum, an ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence
in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of
her reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the
important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d
589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d
300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d
96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ must “‘build an
accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the]
conclusion' so that [a reviewing court] may assess the
validity of the agency's final decision and afford [a
claimant] meaningful review.” Giles v. Astrue,
483 F.3d 483, 487 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Scott,
297 F.3d at 595)); see also O'Connor-Spinner,
627 F.3d at 618 (“An ALJ need not specifically address
every piece of evidence, but must provide a ‘logical
bridge' between the evidence and [her]
conclusions.”); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he ALJ's analysis
must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [the]
decision to deny benefits.”).
eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that she suffers from a “disability” as defined
by the Social Security Act and regulations. The Act defines
“disability” as an inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To be found
disabled, the claimant's impairment must not only prevent
her from doing her previous work, but considering her age,
education, and work experience, it must also prevent her from
engaging in any other type of substantial gainful activity
that exists in significant numbers in the economy. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e)-(f).
claimant alleges a disability, Social Security regulations
provide a five-step inquiry to evaluate whether the claimant
is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The
steps are: (1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful
activity? If yes, the claimant is not disabled, and the claim
is denied; if no, the inquiry proceeds to step two; (2) Does
the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments
that are severe? If no, the claimant is not disabled, and the
claim is denied; if yes, the inquiry proceeds to step three;
(3) Do(es) the impairment(s) meet or equal a listed
impairment in the appendix to the regulations? If yes, the
claimant is automatically considered disabled; if no, then
the inquiry proceeds to step four; (4) Can the claimant do
the claimant's past relevant work? If yes, the claimant
is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no, then the
inquiry proceeds to step five; (5) Can the claimant perform
other work given the claimant's residual functional
capacity (RFC), age, education, and experience? If yes, then
the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no,
the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(I)-(v); see also Scheck v. Barnhart,
357 F.3d 697, 699-700 (7th Cir. 2004).
steps four and five, the ALJ must consider an assessment of
the claimant's RFC. The RFC “is an administrative
assessment of what work-related activities an individual can
perform despite [her] limitations.” Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1178 (7th Cir. 2001). The RFC
should be based on evidence in the record. Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 676 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3)). The claimant bears the burden
of proving steps one through four, whereas ...