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Maloney v. Berryhill

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

January 19, 2018

MELINDA L. MALONEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Plaintiff Melinda Maloney applied for supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on April 9, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of August 1, 1998. [Filing No. 13-5 at 2.] Her application was initially denied on June 13, 2014, [Filing No. 13-4 at 2], and upon reconsideration on September 12, 2014, [Filing No. 13-4 at 9]. The ALJ held a hearing on February 16, 2016, [Filing No. 13-2 at 47-72], and issued a decision on March 10, 2016, concluding that Ms. Maloney was not entitled to receive supplemental security income, [Filing No. 13-2 at 23]. The Appeals Council denied review on February 23, 2017. [Filing No. 13-2 at 2.] On March 31, 2017, Ms. Maloney timely filed this civil action asking the Court to review the denial of benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). [Filing No. 1.] For the reasons detailed below, decision of the ALJ is REVERSED and the case REMANDED for action consistent with the opinion.

         I.

         Standard of Review

         “The Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits … to individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory definition of ‘disability' consists of two parts. First, it requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second, it requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted or can be expected to last … not less than 12 months.” Id. at 217.

         When an applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision the Court's role 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 purposes 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), we 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) (quotations omitted).

         The ALJ is required to apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v) in making disability determinations, evaluating the factors in sequence:

(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).

         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. See 20 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. See 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 where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).

         II.

         BACKGROUND

         Ms. Maloney was 43 years old at the time she applied for supplemental security income. [Filing No. 13-5 at 2.] She had completed high school and previously worked as a telephone inspector. [Filing No. 13-2 at 37-38.][1]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) and ultimately concluded that Ms. Maloney is not ...


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