United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
CHARLOTTE E. WILLIS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S
Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge
Charlotte Willis applied to the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) for disability
insurance benefits on November 4, 2013, alleging a disability
onset date of October 2, 2013. [Filing No. 7-5 at
2.] Her application was denied initially on February 25,
2014, [Filing No. 7-3 at 10], and upon
reconsideration on April 22, 2014, [Filing No. 7-3 at
19]. Administrative Law Judge Scot Gulick
(“ALJ”) held a hearing on August 12,
2015, and issued a decision on August 24, 2015, concluding
that Ms. Willis was not entitled to receive benefits.
[Filing No. 7-2 at 10-28.] On February 1, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied Ms. Willis' request for review,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. [Filing No. 7-2 at 2-5.] Ms. Willis
then filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
requesting that the Court review the Commissioner's
decision. [Filing No. 1.]
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.
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 for 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
must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in
(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
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).
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. See 20 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.
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
Willis was born on March 26, 1954, [Filing No. 7-5 at
2], has a high school education, and has previous work
experience as a pharmacy technician, [Filing No. 7-6 at
7]. Ms. Willis worked as a pharmacy technician
at CVS Pharmacy for approximately 40 years, and most recently
worked for five months as a cashier at CVS. [Filing No.
7-2 at 37.] Ms. Willis claims that she is disabled based
on a variety of conditions, which will be discussed as
the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA in
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ issued an opinion on
August 24, 2015, determining that Ms. Willis was not entitled
to receive disability benefits. [Filing No. 7-2 at
10-28.] The ALJ found as follows:
• At Step One, the ALJ found that Ms. Willis had engaged
in substantial gainful activitysince the alleged onset date.
[Filing No. 7-2 at 15.]
• At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Willis suffered
from the following severe impairments: “degenerative
disc disease with spondylosis, minor arthritis of the right
shoulder, and osteoarthritis of the knees.” [Filing
No. 7-2 at 16.]
• At Step Three, the ALJ found that Ms. Willis did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. [Filing No. 7-2 at 16-17.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, the ALJ found
that Ms. Willis has the RFC to perform light work with the
following specific limitations:
[Ms. Willis] can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently; sit for 6 of 8 hours; and stand and/or
walk for 6 of 8 hours. She can occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs, but she can
never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She can have
occasional exposure to humidity and wetness and no exposure
to unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts.”
[Filing No. 7-2 at 17.]
• At Step Four, the ALJ found that Ms. Willis is able to
perform her past relevant work as a pharmacy technician.
[Filing No. 7-2 at 23.] The ALJ therefore concluded
that Ms. Willis has not been under disability since the
alleged onset date of October 2, 2013.
[Filing No. 7-2 at 24.]
Willis asked the Appeals Council to review the ALJ's
decision, but that request was denied on February 1, 2017,
[Filing No. 7-2 at 2-5], rendering the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Willis
then filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), requesting that the Court review the ALJ's
decision. [Filing No. 1.]
Willis raises several issues on appeal which the Court will
address in turn: (1) whether the ALJ appropriately treated
all of the doctors' medical opinions and gave adequate
reasoning for his treatment, [Filing No. 9 at 8-12],
(2) whether the ALJ erred in Ms. Willis' credibility
analysis, [Filing No. 9 at 12-14], and (3) whether
the ALJ erred in relying on the vocational expert's