United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
VICKIE L. MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
Plaintiff, Vickie L. Mitchell, seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration denying her application for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The
Plaintiff claims that the Commissioner made errors in
determining that she is able to perform her past relevant
work. Specifically, she asserts that the Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) should have found that her status-post left
radial fracture with open reduction and internal fixation of
her carpal tunnel syndrome was a severe impairment. The
Plaintiff also maintains that the ALJ's determination
that she was able to perform medium exertion work is
contradicted by two pieces of evidence that the ALJ
reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, the Court finds
that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision,
and that there is no basis to remand for further review.
December 20, 2013, the Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, and on December 31, 2013, filed an application
for supplemental security income under Title XVI. The alleged
onset date of her disability is September 15, 2011. After her
claim was denied initially, as well as upon reconsideration,
the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. On December
4, 2015, the Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney,
participated in a hearing before the ALJ. A vocational expert
also testified. On December 29, 2015, the ALJ issued a
written decision, applying the well-known five-step
sequential evaluation process. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a).
first step, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since September 15, 2011, the
alleged onset date. At the second step, the ALJ determined
that the Plaintiff's chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD) was a severe impairment that significantly
limited her physical ability to do basic work activities.
However, none of her other impairments caused more than
minimal functional limitations. For example, the ALJ found
that the Plaintiff's left wrist fracture had healed, and
her hypertension was controlled and non-severe.
three, the ALJ considered whether the Plaintiff's
impairments, or combination of impairments, met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the impairments listed by the
Administration as being so severe that it presumptively
precludes SGA. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
1. The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff did not have any
impairments, or combination of impairments, that met any
listing, and noted that there were no acceptable medical
sources who opined otherwise.
the ALJ was required, at step four, to determine the
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is
an assessment of the claimant's ability to perform
sustained work-related physical and mental activities in
light of her impairments. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1
(July 2, 1996). The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), but with certain
environmental limitations necessitated by her COPD.
final step of the evaluation, the ALJ determined that the
Plaintiff was not disabled because she was capable of
performing her past relevant work as an assembler,
production; cashier-checker; power-press operator with hand
launderer; and cleaner, commercial or institutional.
Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. In December 2016, the Appeals Council denied
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736,
739 (7th Cir. 2009). The Plaintiff seeks judicial review
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
claimant is disabled only if he shows an 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). He
has the burden of proving disability. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(5)(A). He must establish that his physical or
mental impairments “are of such severity that he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
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 is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be
“more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). 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” ...