United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DEBORA L. GILLETTE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge
Debora L. Gillette applied in September 2013 for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social
Security Act, alleging that she has been disabled since
September 2, 2007. Acting for the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration following a hearing held October 5,
2015, administrative law judge John H. Metz issued a decision
on October 20, 2015, finding that Ms. Gillette was not
disabled before her date last insured (December 31, 2012)
under the DIB program. The Appeals Council denied review of
the ALJ's decision on October 21, 2016, rendering the
ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Ms. Gillette
timely filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
for review of the Commissioner's decision. The parties
consented to the magistrate judge conducting all proceedings
and ordering the entry of judgment in accordance with 28
U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73.
Gillette contends the Commissioner's decision must be
reversed and remanded because (1) the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) finding is not based on
substantial evidence and (2) the vocational expert's
opinion was not consistent with the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles, and the ALJ failed properly to inquire
about and address those inconsistencies.
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court's standard of review, and
then address Ms. Gillette's specific assertions of error.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show 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). Ms. Gillette 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,
and work experience, 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, then she is not disabled. Step
two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe; if they are not, then 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 SSA
has predetermined 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.
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then 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, then 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, and education (which are not considered
at step four), and her RFC; if so, then 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, then
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. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995,
1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
Judicial 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 (7thCir. 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.
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for his 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 in his decision, but he
cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the
conclusions he made, and he must trace the path of his
reasoning and connect the evidence to his findings and
conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592
(7thCir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227
F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
I. The ALJ's Sequential
Gillette was born in 1959 and was 48 years old at the alleged
onset of her disability in September 2007. Ms. Gillette's
date last insured for purposes of the DIB program is December
31, 2012; thus, to receive benefits, she must have become
disabled on or before that date. Shideler v. Astrue,
688 F.3d 306, 311 (7th Cir. 2012) (claimant must
establish that disabled before expiration of her insured
Gillette's most recent job before she stopped working in
2007 was as a certified nursing assistant between 1999 and
2007. She stopped working because of a knee injury. (R.
one, the ALJ found that Ms. Gillette had not worked since her
alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ found
that through the date last injured, Ms. Gillette had severe
impairments of bilateral knee impairments, back pain,
asthma/COPD, hearing loss, high blood pressure, diabetes, and
obesity, but that no listing was met or medically equaled.
Ms. Gillette does not challenge the ALJ's steps one
through three findings.
RFC before the date last insured, the ALJ relied on the
hearing testimony of a medical expert (Dr. John A. Pella) and
found that before her date last insured, Ms. Gillette ...