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Paul v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2018



          Mark J. Dinsmore United States Magistrate Judge.

         Carrie Ann Paul (“Paul”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). See42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3)(A). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. Background

         Paul filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on March 14, 2013, alleging an onset of disability date of January 1, 2001. [Dkt. 17-5 at 2.] Paul later amended her onset date to February 1, 2013. [Dkt. 17-2 at 10.] Paul alleges disability due to remote spinal fusion from 1983 with lumbar spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, schizoaffective disorder, seizure disorder, anxiety and polysubstance dependence.[1] [Dkt. 17-2 at 12.] Paul's application was initially denied on July 10, 2013, and denied again on September 19, 2013, upon reconsideration. [Dkt. 17-4 at 5-17.] Paul timely filed a written request for a hearing, which was held on June 11, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge Mario G. Silva (“ALJ”). [Dkt. 17-4 at 35.] The ALJ issued a decision on July 27, 2015, again denying Paul's application for SSI. [Dkt. 17-2 at 7.] On February 23, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Paul's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 17-2 at 2.] Paul timely filed her Complaint in this Court on May 23, 2017, which Complaint is now before the Court.

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB or SSI, a claimant must have a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.[2] Disability is defined as the “inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner, as represented by the ALJ, employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities, she is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and she is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and cannot perform her past relevant work but she can perform certain other available work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Before proceeding from step three to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), identifying the claimant's functional limitations and assessing the claimant's remaining capacity for work-related activities. S.S.R. 96-8p.

         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. This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ but may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). The ALJ “need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted.” Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 287 (7th Cir. 1985); Zblewski v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 75, 79 (7th Cir. 1984)). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). 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, ” he must “provide some glimpse into his reasoning” and “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that Paul had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2013, the alleged onset date. [Dkt. 17-2 at 12.] At step two, the ALJ determined that Paul “has the following severe impairments: remote spinal fusion from 1983 with lumbar spondylolisthesis; scoliosis; schizoaffective disorder; seizure disorder; anxiety and polysubstance dependence.” [Dkt. 17-2 at 12.] However, at step three, the ALJ found that Paul does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a listed impairment. [Dkt. 17-2 at 12.] In making this determination, the ALJ considered Listings 1.04 (Disorder of the Spine), 12.03 (Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders), 12.04 (Depressive, Bipolar and Related Disorders), 12.06 (Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders), and 12.09 (Reserved). [Dkt. 17-2 at 12.]

         The ALJ next analyzed Paul's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). He concluded that Paul had the RFC to perform a range of light work except:

[C]laimant could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; never crawl; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel and crouch; unable to engage in the operation of foot controls; perform work on even terrain and on nonslippery surfaces; occasional exposure to wetness; avoid all exposure to hazards, such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving mechanical parts; limited to simple, routine repetitive tasks; unable to perform work that requires directing others, abstract thought or planning; limited to simple work related decisions and routine work place changes; the work must be able to be performed at a flexible [pace], such as free of production rate pace, no tandem tasks or team work where one production step is dependent on the prior step and occasional interaction with the public, coworkers and supervisors.

[Dkt. 17-2 at 13-14.] In finding these limitations, the ALJ considered Paul's “symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence.” [Dkt. 17-2 at 14.] At step four, the ALJ found that Paul had no past relevant work. [Dkt. 17-2 at 18.] The ALJ thus proceeded to step five, at which time he received testimony from the vocational expert indicating that someone with Paul's education, work experience, age, and RFC would be able to perform unskilled light occupations such as housekeeping/cleaner, marker, and routing clerk. [Dkt. 17-2 at 19.] The vocational expert also indicated that Paul would be able to perform sedentary unskilled occupations such as microfilm document preparer, ampule sealer, and parimutuel ticket checker. [Dkt. 17-2 at 19.] Because these jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Paul was not disabled. [Dkt. 17-2 at 19.]

         IV. Discussion

         Paul asserts the ALJ committed two errors that require remand: (1) the ALJ erred by failing to account for his own findings of moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace in his RFC and in the hypothetical questions that he posed to the vocational expert (“VE”); and (2) the ALJ erred by unreasonably rejecting the opinion of the consultative examiner which supported a more restrictive mental RFC.

         A. Concentration, ...

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