United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
AMY N. HENSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge
matter comes before the court on the plaintiff's
complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's
decision denying plaintiff's application for social
security disability benefits. The parties have consented to
the undersigned's jurisdiction. For the reasons that
follow, the court reverses and remands.
Henson applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under
Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security
Income under Title XVI of the Act, alleging she has been
disabled since November 3, 2012. Acting for the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration following a hearing in
May 2015, an administrative law judge (ALJ) issued a decision
on July 29, 2015, finding that Ms. Henson has not been
disabled from the alleged onset date through the date of his
decision. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's
decision on October 24, 2016, rendering the ALJ's
decision for the Commissioner final. Ms. Henson timely filed
this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the
Henson argues that the Commissioner's decision must be
reversed and remanded because the ALJ erred in weighing the
opinions of her treating medical providers, Timothy M.
Lenardo, M.D., Ronald F. Baldwin, M.D., and Thomas E. Rea,
Psy.D. She also argues that the ALJ's listings analysis
was perfunctory and unsupported, and she maintains the ALJ
erred in failing to consult a medical expert on the question
of medical equivalence. Finally, Ms. Henson argues that the
step 5 finding lacks an adequate foundation. In particular,
she challenges the vocational expert's testimony about
the number of jobs available for her to perform and the
reliance on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
The court will first describe the legal framework for
analyzing disability claims, the standard of review and the
ALJ's findings, and then address the assertions of error.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show that she is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)
(DIB benefits); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (supplemental
security income (SSI) benefits). Ms. Henson is disabled if
her impairments are of such severity that she is not able to
perform the work she previously engaged in and, if based on
her age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity, she cannot engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). The Social
Security Administration (“SSA”) has implemented
these statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a
five-step sequential evaluation process for determining
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if she is, she is not disabled. Step two
asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe; if they are not, she is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether
the claimant's impairments, either singly or in
combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of
the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments
includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the
Social Security Administration has pre-determined are
disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria
for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in
severity to the criteria for the most similar listed
impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and
qualifies for benefits. Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d
424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, her
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite her
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the
RFC to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled.
The fifth step asks whether there is work in the relevant
economy that the claimant can perform, based on her age, work
experience, education, and RFC; if so, she is not disabled.
individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, the
Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that work
exists in significant numbers in the national economy that
the claimant can perform, given her age, education, work
experience, and functional capacity. Young v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of
law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence means evidence that a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a
scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a
preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246
F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for the decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every
piece of evidence, but he cannot ignore an entire line of
evidence that undermines his conclusions, and he must provide
sufficient detail to allow a reviewing court to trace the
path of his reasoning. See Arnett v. Astrue, 676
F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012). And the ALJ “must ...