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Gray v. Berryhill

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

March 21, 2018

HEATHER GRAY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         Plaintiff Heather Gray requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The Court rules as follows.


         Gray protectively filed her application on October 31, 2012, alleging onset of disability on January 1, 2010.[2] The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) initially denied Gray's application on March 7, 2013. After Gray timely requested reconsideration, SSA again denied her claim on July 25, 2013. Thereafter, Gray requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). An ALJ held a hearing on July 14, 2015, at which Gray, a vocational expert (“VE”), and two medical experts testified. The ALJ issued his decision denying Gray's application on July 31, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review on August 6, 2016, Gray filed this action seeking judicial review on October 5, 2016.


         The relevant evidence of record is amply set forth in the parties' briefs and need not be repeated here. Specific facts relevant to the Court's disposition of this case are discussed below.


         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 that 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. § 416.920(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. § 416.920(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 durational requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g).

         In reviewing the ALJ's decision, 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, Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” he must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and [his] conclusion that a claimant is not disabled.” Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). “If a decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, a remand is required.” Id. (citation omitted).


         The ALJ found at step one that Gray had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Gray had the severe impairments of degenerative disk disease, a history of superficial phlebitis in the lower extremity, degenerative joint diseased of the right shoulder, obesity, a depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder with panic attacks, and a post-traumatic stress disorder. The ALJ found at step three that these impairments did not, individually or in combination, meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. The ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was as follows:

After consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except: She is able to sit for two hours at a time and for about six hours during an eight-hour workday. However, she should have the opportunity to stand for about five minutes every hour. She is able to stand for thirty to sixty minutes at one time. She is able to walk for fifteen to thirty minutes at one time. She is able to stand and/or walk for two hours during an eight-hour workday. She is able to reach overhead occasionally and she is able to reach in other planes frequently. She has no limitations for fingering, grasping or handling objects. She is able to operate foot controls occasionally with the left lower extremity and she is able to operate foot controls with the right lower extremity frequently. She is able to climb ramps or stairs occasionally, but she is not able to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She is not able to crouch or crawl, but she is able to balance, stoop, or kneel occasionally. She should avoid activities that involve exposure to unprotected heights or elevations or moving mechanical parts. She should avoid concentrated exposure to dust, fumes, odors, pulmonary irritants and extreme cold or heat. She is limited to jobs work [sic] that involves performance of simple, repetitive tasks with only occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers or the public.

R. at 17-18 (footnote omitted). The ALJ concluded at step four that Gray does not have any past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ found, based on VE testimony considering Gray's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that ...

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