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Bryant v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 13, 2018

DEBORAH D. BRYANT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Deborah D. Bryant on December 21, 2016, and Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 17], filed by Plaintiff on May 5, 2017. Plaintiff requests that the July 27, 2015 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim for disability insurance benefits be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On August 16, 2017, the Commissioner filed a response. Plaintiff filed a reply brief on September 5, 2017. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on August 29, 2013, alleging disability since March 20, 2009. The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. On February 21, 2014, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing. On April 6, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Joel G. Fina (“ALJ”) held a hearing. In attendance at the hearing were Plaintiff, Plaintiff's attorney, an impartial medical expert, and an impartial vocational expert. On July 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits, making the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on September 30, 2011.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of March 20, 2009 through her date last insured of September 30, 2011.
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: bilateral plantar fasciitis, status post releases; left ankle arthritis, status post fracture; obesity; obstructive sleep apnea.
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except lifting and carrying less than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; standing and walking for approximately 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; sitting for approximately 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional climbing ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling; and avoid concentrated exposure to uneven terrain.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a clothes sorter and day care worker. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity.
7. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from March 20, 2009, the alleged onset date, through September 30, 2011, the date last insured.

(AR 15-22).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Agency's decision.

         The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final decision of the agency and indicates that the Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003)).

         A court reviews the entire administrative record but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ “uses the correct legal standards and the decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). “[I]f the Commissioner commits an error of ...


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