United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
CYNTHIA D. BEACHY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Cynthia Beachy applied for social security disability
benefits after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure
and cardiomyopathy, among other conditions. Though she was
able to return to part-time work after a period of recovery,
she alleges that her conditions left her unable to work on a
full-time basis. An administrative law judge concluded that
Ms. Beachy could still perform light work and would be able
to perform some of her past relevant work, so she found that
Ms. Beachy was not disabled. Ms. Beachy now appeals that
decision. For the reasons below, the Court remands this
matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
Beachy suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
for some time, though she was still able to maintain
full-time employment. In April 2014, however, she began
experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, and was
diagnosed with congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy.
Tests showed that she had a very low ejection fraction,
meaning a small amount of blood was being pumped through her
heart on each beat. She was released from the hospital once
her condition stabilized, but she remained off work. Over
time her condition improved, and by September 2014 her
ejection fraction began approaching normal levels. Ms. Beachy
returned to work about two days a week as an assistant
manager of a retail store around that time, but she claims
that she was unable to work full-time because she fatigued
easily and was unable to maintain exertion over the course of
Beachy applied for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, claiming that she became
disabled in April 2014. In a decision issued in September
2016, an ALJ found that Ms. Beachy was not disabled. She
concluded that Ms. Beachy retained the ability to perform
light work, subject to some postural and environmental
restrictions. In support of that finding, she relied in large
part on Ms. Beachy's ability to work part time and the
improvement in her heart conditions in the months following
her April 2014 hospitalization. Based on testimony from a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that a person with Ms.
Beachy's residual functional capacity could still perform
some of Ms. Beachy's previous jobs, including working as
a waitress or retail store manager. Accordingly, the ALJ
found that Ms. Beachy was ineligible for benefits. Ms. Beachy
appealed that decision, but the Appeals Council denied
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. Ms. Beachy therefore 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. Ultimately, 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
Act. 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
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