United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge
Merri Ellen Miller applied in September 2012 for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
alleging she has been disabled since May 2012. Acting for the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration following
a hearing on July 7, 2015, administrative law judge Michael
Carr issued a decision on August 25, 2015, that Ms. Miller is
not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of the
ALJ's decision on November 15, 2016, rendering the
ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Ms. Miller
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.
Miller asserts that the Commissioner's decision must be
reversed and remanded because (1) the ALJ did not address her
counsel's post-hearing submission regarding vocational
evidence; (2) the ALJ erred in his evaluation of a medical
opinion; and (3) the ALJ's credibility analysis is flawed
because he did not address Ms. Miller's lengthy work
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court's standard of review, and
then address Ms. Miller'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. Miller 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 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 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 a listed
impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and
qualifies for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
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
vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and
RFC; if so, then she is not disabled.
claimant 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 vocational profile 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
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. 2001).
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).
The ALJ's Sequential Findings
Miller was born in 1962, was 50 years old as of her alleged
disability onset date in May 2012, and was 53 years old at
the time of the ALJ's decision. Ms. Miller has a lengthy
work history. Her earnings record shows that she accrued
covered earnings in every quarter since she was 21 years old.
(R. 224-25). The most recent work before her disability onset
date was as a distribution clerk with the United States
Postal Service. That job required standing 8 hours per work
day and longer if one worked overtime, and a lot of lifting
(an average of 20 to 25 pounds through the work day),
pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, and stooping. (R.
one, the ALJ found Ms. Miller had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date. At steps two
and three, the ALJ identified certain severe impairments
(obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
residuals of deep vein thrombosis, and anxiety and affective
disorders), but found that no listing was met or ...