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Doaks v. Berryhill

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

January 16, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Jeanette Doaks requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Doaks's application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, rules as follows.


         Disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled, despite her medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelvemonth duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” he must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and [his] conclusion that a claimant is not disabled.” Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). “If a decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, a remand is required.” Id. (citation omitted).


         Doaks protectively filed for SSI on March 5, 2013, alleging that she became disabled on December 31, 2009, due to chronic asthma, bronchitis, arthritis of the spine, depression, and hypertension. Her application was denied initially on March 24, 2013, and upon reconsideration on July 31, 2013.

         Thereafter, Doaks requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). A video hearing, during which Doaks was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ James Myles on February 12, 2015. An impartial vocational expert testified at the hearing. The ALJ issued his decision denying Doaks's claim on March 26, 2015. Additional evidence was submitted after the hearing. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, Doaks filed this timely appeal.


         At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined that Doaks had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 5, 2013. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded the claimant suffered from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hypertension, osteoarthritis of the knees, endometriosis, and morbid obesity (20 CFR 416.920(c)), but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Doaks had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, except

The claimant can stand and walk for two hours during an eight hour day. She can only walk short distances. The claimant can occasionally crouch, balance, stoop, climb, kneel, and crawl, but should avoid ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally perform overhead reaching with the non-dominant left upper extremity. In addition, the claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, wetness, humidity, and pulmonary irritants.

         R. at 25. The ALJ concluded Doaks did not have any past relevant work but would be able to perform representative occupations such as ...

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