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Collins v. Berryhill

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

March 12, 2018

EMMA COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Emma Collins applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and/or supplemental security income (“SSI”) from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on June 5, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of June 2, 2012. [Filing No. 17-5 at 8.] Her application was initially denied on September 10, 2014, [Filing No. 17-4 at 8], and reaffirmed upon reconsideration on November 14, 2014, [Filing No. 17-4 at 31]. The ALJ conducted a hearing on July 19, 2016, [Filing No. 17-2 at 30-63], resulting in a decision on November 23, 2016 that Ms. Collins was not entitled to receive DIB or SSI, [Filing No. 17-2 at 10]. The Appeals Council denied review on March 6, 2017. [Filing No. 17-2 at 2.] On May 10, 2017, Ms. Collins timely filed this action seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). [Filing No. 1.] For the reasons detailed below, the decision of the ALJ is REVERSED and the case REMANDED for action consistent with this order.

         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' has 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 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 the purpose 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), the Court must 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 in sequence set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), to determine:

(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).[1]“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. § 404.1520(iv), (v). 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. Collins, Plaintiff herein, was 55 years of age at the time she applied for DIB and/or SSI. [Filing No. 17-5 at 8.] She has completed 10 years of high school, [Filing No. 17-2 at 32], and previously worked as an inserter and an attendant at a coin operated laundry. [Filing No. 17-2 at 55.][2]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), ultimately concluding that Ms. Collins is not ...


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