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Garber v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

November 29, 2017

Garnet L. Garber Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY ON THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Garnet L. Garber previously applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on March 13, 2011. [Filing No. 13-3 at 3.] Ms. Garber was initially denied benefits, and after a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Roxanne Fuller (“ALJ Fuller”), Ms. Garber was determined not to be disabled on August 23, 2012. [Filing No. 13-3 at 3.] Ms. Garber did not request the Appeals Council to review ALJ Fuller’s decision. [Filing No. 13-3 at 3.]

         On July 31, 2013, Ms. Garber applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits for the second time, alleging an onset date of March 15, 2010. [Filing No. 13-2 at 21.] Ms. Garber’s July 31, 2013 application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. [Filing No. 13-2 at 21.] Ms. Garber requested a hearing, which was presided over by Administrative Law Judge John Murdock (“the ALJ”). [Filing No. 13-2 at 21.] The ALJ issued a decision concluding that Ms. Garber was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. [Filing No. 13-2 at 21-30.] Ms. Garber requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision. [Filing No. 13-2 at 2.] On November 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Garber’s request, [Filing No. 13-2 at 2], rendering that decision the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Ms. Garber then filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting that this Court review the Commissioner’s decision.

         This Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Mark J. Dinsmore (“the Magistrate Judge”), who issued a Report and Recommendation. [Filing No. 24.] In the Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge found the ALJ’s decision to be supported by substantial evidence and recommended the ALJ’s decision be affirmed. [Filing No. 24 at 12.] Ms. Garber timely filed her Objection to the Report and Recommendation, which is presently pending before the Court. [Filing No. 25.] The Commissioner did not respond to the Objection.

         I.

         Standard of Review

         When the Court refers a dispositive matter to the Magistrate Judge-as it did here-a party may object to the Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendation and “[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge’s disposition that has been properly objected to. The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed. R Civ. P. 72(b)(3).

         In conducting its de novo review of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, the Court will review this matter as it does other social security appeals. Specifically, the Court 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) (quotation omitted).

         The ALJ must apply the five-step sequential inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) to determine:

(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 economy.

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) (citation omitted).

         After 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. See20 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.

         If the 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 omitted).

         II.

         Background

         Ms. Garber was fifty-six years old at the time of her second application for disability insurance benefits. [Filing No. 13-5 at 2.] She has previously worked as a fast food worker, membership salesperson, food demonstrator, and retail store manager. [Filing No. 13-2 at 61-62.] Ms. Garber claims ...


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