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Dombroff v. Berryhill

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

January 16, 2018




         Plaintiff Tina Dombroff seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her disability benefits and supplemental security income and erred by failing to build an accurate and logical bridge in relation to the Plaintiff's urinary frequency and by failing to incorporate limitations from all of the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments, both severe and non-severe, into her residual functional capacity.


         On December 4, 2013, the Plaintiff filed her Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (R. 16.) She also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on December 12, 2013. (Id.) In both applications, she alleged disability beginning on August 15, 2003. (Id.) Her claims were denied initially on February 6, 2014, and upon reconsideration on July 3, 2014. (Id.) On September 10, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Sharon D. Ringenberg, a vocational expert, also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On October 8, 2015, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled. (R. 16-27.) On December 2, 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 January 31, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim [ECF No. 1] 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 not engaged in SGA since her alleged onset date, August 15, 2003. (R. 17.)

         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 chronic heart failure, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, sleep apnea, anxiety disorder, and affective disorder. (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff had other, non-severe impairments, including urinary frequency, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (R. 19.)

         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, 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) and 416.967(b), except:

[S]he can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; her work station must be indoors; and she must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, and humidity, she must avoid moderate exposure to inordinate amount of respiratory irritants, and she must work in an environment with levels of respiratory irritants similar to those found in business offices, retail establishments, public areas such as a post office or library, or a clean industrial setting. She can understand, remember, and carry out rote, or routine instructions or tasks that require the exercise of little independent judgment or decision-making and can be learned from a short demonstration up to 30 days; she cannot make judgments or decisions for more complex detailed types of tasks, such as analyzing compiled dated [sic], directing or planning others' activities, supervising employees, or performing tasks that vary from day to day and require new learning on an unpredictable basis; and she must work in a stable setting where there is little change in terms of tools used, the processes employed, or the setting itself, and change, where necessary is introduced gradually. She should not work in an environment that is stringently production or quota, base [sic], and thus may not perform fast-paced assembly line work; she can meet production requirements that allow her to sustain a flexible and goal-oriented pace. She can have only occasional and superficial contact with the general public and would not be able to perform a job that entails work-related interaction and conversations with the general public; this occasional contact and interaction could not involve prolonged conversations about work details, but could involve casual and brief conversations; and she could interact and converse with supervisors long enough to receive work instructions, however she could only perform a job that otherwise involves occasional and superficial interaction with her supervisors; and she cannot travel in order to complete work tasks.

(R. 21-22.)

         After evaluating the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective symptoms, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (R. 23.) 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.” (Id.) The Plaintiff testified regarding her level of pain and the functional restrictions on her daily activities. Among other restrictions, the Plaintiff testified that “she did very little beyond taking naps; watching television; and doing laundry, vacuuming, and shopping once a week, ” that she could prepare simple meals, that “she forgets to take her medications because all she does is sleep, ” that “[s]he will not travel alone because she is afraid she will have a heart attack, ” and that she “could walk only ½ block without having chest pain and shortness of breath.” (R. 22.) Testimony from the Plaintiff's son corroborated these limitations. (R. 23.) However, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's treatment records showed that she “was doing well and had an active lifestyle.” (Id.) In early 2014, the Plaintiff “reported that she cleaned continuously, she shopped until she had anxiety, and she cooked for herself.” (Id.) She also ...

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