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Bennett v. Berryhill

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

March 19, 2018

CIJI R. BENNETT, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Ciji R. Bennett requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Bennett's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of 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).[1] 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.


         Bennett protectively filed for DIB and SSI on May 28, 2013, alleging that she became disabled on August 31, 2012. Bennett's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Thereafter, Bennett requested a hearing before an ALJ. A video hearing, during which Bennett was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ Roxanne Fuller on April 28, 2015. An impartial vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared and testified at the hearing. The ALJ issued her decision denying Bennett's claim on August 28, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review, Bennett filed this timely appeal.


         The ALJ determined that Bennett met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015. The ALJ determined at step one that Bennett had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 31, 2012, her alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Bennett had the severe impairments of “multiple sclerosis and depression (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)), ” Record at 18, but that her impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Bennett had the following Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”):

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except: occasional climb ramps or stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds; occasional balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl; frequent handling, that is gross manipulation with both hands; frequent fingering, that is fine manipulation with both hands; occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts; occasional operating a motor vehicle; occasional exposure to unprotected heights; limited to occupations that do not require frequent verbal communication and frequent telephone communication; able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks.

R. at 20. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that, although Bennett could not perform her past relevant work, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Bennett was not disabled as defined by the Act.


         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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