United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
STACY L. OBA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Stacy L. Oba applied for social security disability benefits,
claiming that she was unable to work due to a variety of
impairments. She alleged that she suffered extreme pain from
degenerative disc and joint diseases that prevented her from
engaging in almost any activities, as well as
gastrointestinal problems that would prevent her from
attending a job. An administrative law judge found that Ms.
Oba was limited in her ability to work, but not as severely
as alleged, and that there were jobs that a person with Ms.
Oba's limitations could perform. Accordingly, the
Commissioner denied Ms. Oba's claim for benefits. Ms. Oba
filed this action seeking review of that decision. For the
reasons explained below, the Court affirms the
Commissioner's denial of the claim.
filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income, claiming that, by February
2012, she had become unable to work due to her health
conditions. She primarily alleged that she was disabled due
to pain that she suffered from degenerative disc and joint
disease in her back, hip, and knees. Though her x-rays and
MRIs revealed only mild findings, Ms. Oba complained of pain
so severe that she was unable to walk or engage in any
meaningful activity. She sought treatment for that condition
through a pain management doctor, who prescribed narcotic
pain medication. Ms. Oba also complained of extreme
gastrointestinal conditions, and testified that for the
previous two and half years, she had been throwing up ten to
twenty times a day and having diarrhea twenty to thirty times
a day. The record showed that Ms. Oba had been diagnosed with
irritable bowel syndrome and narcotic bowel syndrome, but
also contained conflicting evidence as to whether or to what
extent Ms. Oba suffered symptoms from those conditions. Ms.
Oba had also undergone gastric bypass surgery some time
before her alleged onset date, and while she had lost several
hundred pounds, she still qualified as obese.
administrative law judge held a hearing on Ms. Oba's
claims, and Ms. Oba and a vocational expert each testified.
The ALJ then issued a written decision that concluded Ms. Oba
did not qualify as disabled. In particular, the ALJ found at
step two that Ms. Oba had a number of severe impairments,
including degenerative disc disease, knee and hip
degenerative joint disease, and obesity. He then found that
Ms. Oba did not meet or equal any of the listings at step
three-a finding Ms. Oba does not challenge on appeal-so he
proceeded to evaluate her residual functional capacity. Among
other limitations, he found that she could stand or walk up
to two hours in a day; that she could lift or carry up to
twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; that
she could occasionally balance, stoop, and kneel, but could
not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and that she could
not perform commercial driving or be exposed to hazards. The
vocational expert testified that a person with those
limitations could perform a number of sedentary jobs, so the
ALJ found at step five that Ms. Oba was not disabled. The
Appeals Council denied Ms. Oba's request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. Ms. Oba thus filed this action seeking review
of that decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability
benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008).
Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more
than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir.
2007). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could
differ” about the disability status of the claimant,
the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long
as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. While the ALJ is not
required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
benefits are available only to those individuals who can
establish disability under the terms of the Social Security
Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998).
Specifically, the claimant must be 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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social
Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation
process to be used in determining whether the claimant has
established a disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
listed in the regulations;
4. Whether the claimant can still perform relevant past work;
5. Whether the claimant can perform other work in the