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Zupan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

March 16, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         Plaintiff Joanalle T. Zupan requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Zupan's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, rules as follows.


         Disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled, despite her medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve-month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

         In reviewing the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her acceptance or rejection of specific evidence of disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” she must “provide some glimpse into her reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.


         Zupan protectively filed for DIB on August 21, 2013, alleging that she became disabled on February 2, 2010. Zupan's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Thereafter, Zupan requested a hearing before an ALJ. A video hearing, during which Zupan was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ Lee Lewin on June 18, 2015. An impartial vocational expert (“VE”) and an impartial medical expert also appeared and testified at the hearing. The ALJ issued her decision denying Zupan's claim on July 15, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, Zupan filed this timely appeal.


         The ALJ determined that Zupan last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2014. The ALJ determined at step one that Zupan did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of February 2, 2010, through her date last insured of June 30, 2014. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Zupan had the severe impairments of “fibromyalgia, headaches/dizziness, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; depression and anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c)), ” Record at 13, but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Zupan had the following Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”):

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant may not climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; and she must avoid concentrated exposure to hazards including dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights. In addition, the claimant has the mental residual functional capacity to remember, understand and carry out short simple instructions for simple routine repetitive tasks; with no fast- paced production rate or strict quota requirements; she can perform simple work related decisions with routine work place changes.

R. at 15. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Zupan could have performed through the date last insured. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Zupan was not disabled as defined by the Act at any time from February 2, 2010, though June 30, 2014.


         The medical evidence of record is aptly set forth in the parties' briefs and need not be recited here. Specific facts are set forth in ...

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