United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
LAURA L. BOWEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch, United States Magistrate Judge.
Laura L. Bowen applied in July 2012 for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income disability
benefits (SSI) under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the
Social Security Act, alleging that she has been disabled
since March 12, 2012. Acting for the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration following a hearing held
August 8, 2014, administrative law judge Mario G. Silva
issued a decision on November 19, 2014, finding that Ms.
Bowen is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of
the ALJ's decision on May 14, 2016, rendering the
ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Ms. Bowen
timely filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
for review of the Commissioner's decision.
Bowen contends the Commissioner's decision must be
reversed and remanded mainly because the Appeals Council did
not articulate why new evidence-in the form of functional
limitations imposed by Ms. Bowen's doctor (Gary S.
Ulrich, D.O.)-did not cause it to review Ms. Bowen's
claim. She also contends that the ALJ's credibility
determination is patently wrong, although in making this
argument she relies in part on the functional limitations
opinion of Dr. Ulrich that the ALJ did not see.
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court's standard of review and
then address Ms. Bowen's specific 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. Bowen 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.
§ 404.1520(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.
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, and education (which are not considered
at step four), and her RFC; if so, then she is not disabled.
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. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995,
1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
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
(7thCir. 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 his decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not
address every piece of evidence in his decision, but he
cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the
conclusions he made, and he must trace the path of his
reasoning and connect the evidence to his findings and
conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592
(7thCir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227
F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
The ALJ's ...