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Kelham v. Berryhill

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

March 12, 2018

TONI K. KELHAM, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Toni K. Kelham seeks review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income. The Plaintiff puts forth two bases for remand. For the reasons that follow, the Court affirms the final decision of the Acting Commissioner.


         On May 7, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. (R. 18.) In both applications, the Plaintiff alleged disability beginning October 13, 2012.[1] (Id.) These applications were denied initially on July 9, 2014, and upon reconsideration on August 29, 2014. (Id.) Thereafter, the Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing, which was granted. (Id.) On December 9, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id.) Amy Kutschbach, an impartial vocational expert (VE), also appeared and testified at the hearing, as did Paul Clark (the Plaintiff's father). (Id.)

         On January 19, 2016, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled through the date of the decision.[2] (R. 18-33.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on December 14, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-4.) On February 12, 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), 1382c(a)(3)(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), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity. Id. In this case, the ALJ found that the claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, October 13, 2012. (R. 20.)

         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), 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: reduced visual acuity in the right eye; bipolar disorder; unspecified anxiety disorder; and borderline intellectual functioning. (R. 21)

         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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(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), 416.920(a)(4)(v)).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairs in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and that she had the RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c), 416.967(c), except that:

[D]ue to her reduced visual acuity in the right eye, the claimant should avoid exposure to unprotected heights, but she can avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace, such as boxes on the floor and doors ajar. She can read ordinary newspaper or book print, and she can read street signs. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; she can make judgments on simple work-related decisions; she can respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations; she can tolerate occasional interactions with the general public, and, she can deal with changes in a routine work setting free of fast paced productions requirements.

(R. 22, 25.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled from her alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision (January 19, 2016). (R. 32.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause her alleged symptoms, but that the Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of those symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. (R. 26-27.) The ALJ further noted that the Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a store laborer, which did not require the Plaintiff to perform work-related activities precluded by her RFC. (R. 31.) Finally, the ALJ found that even if the Plaintiff could not perform ...

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