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Hoover v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

November 16, 2017




         Plaintiff Ruth Ann Hoover seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security Disability benefits and erred by failing to give due weight to her treating physician's opinion and by overemphasizing the Plaintiff's ability to perform daily living activities.


         On December 7, 2012, the Plaintiff filed her third Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on February 22, 2006. (R. 11.) Her claim was denied initially on April 30, 2013, and upon reconsideration on July 17, 2013. (Id.) On March 4, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), along with her husband, Clovis Hoover, and sister, Vickie Napier. (Id.) Marie N. Kieffer, a vocational expert, also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On June 15, 2015, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled prior to her date last insured, March 31, 2012. (R. 11-23.) On October 21, 2016, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-3.)

         On December 20, 2016, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.


         Disability is defined as the “inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has been unable to engage in SGA from her alleged onset date, February 22, 2006, to her date last insured, March 31, 2012. (R. 13.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including a history of chronic neck pain status post fusion surgery with chronic headaches; joint arthralgia/arthritis; depression; anxiety disorders (general anxiety disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)); and methamphetamine abuse/dependence. (R. 13.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work and that the impairments had lasted for at least twelve months as required under the statute. (Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's other alleged or diagnosed impairments, including bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, heart problems, rheumatic fever, a left knee fracture, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), were not severe impairments because they either did not significantly limit the Plaintiff's physical or mental ability to do basic, work-related activities, did not manifest or were not diagnosed until after her date last insured, or had not been diagnosed at all. (R. 14.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of the [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things she can still do physically, despite her limitations-to determine whether she can perform “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that she had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except:

with only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and, needs to avoid concentrated exposure to loud noise and bright flashing lights. Mentally, the claimant cannot understand, remember, or carry out detailed or complex job instructions, but can perform simple, repetitive tasks on a sustained basis (meaning eight hours a day/five days a week, or an equivalent work schedule); needs work at a flexible pace (where the employee is allowed some independence in determining either the timing of different work activities, or pace of work); and only casual, superficial interactions with others, including supervisors, coworkers, and the general public.

(R. 16.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date to her date last insured. The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective symptoms and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (Id.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms were “not entirely credible.” (R. 18.) The Plaintiff, the Plaintiff's sister, and the Plaintiff's daughter testified that “these impairments affect [her] ability to lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, sit, kneel, talk, hear, climb stairs, use her hands, remember, complete tasks, concentrate, understand, follow instructions, and get along with others.” (R. 17.) The Plaintiff testified that “she had ten out of ten neck pain, daily headaches, numbness in her thumbs, as well as left knee and hip pain, that limited her to no lifting or carrying things, sitting for five minutes at one time, standing for five minutes at one time, and walking for five minutes at one time.” (Id.) She also claimed that she had “memory and concentration problems, as well as extremely limited activities of daily living.” (Id.) ...

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