United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO Judge United States District Court
February 21, 2017, Plaintiff Padma Prasad filed a complaint
in this Court seeking review of the final decision of the
Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying her
application for disability insurance benefits. [DE 1]. The
matter is fully briefed and ripe for review. For the reasons
stated below, the Court will remand this matter to the
Commissioner for further consideration.
filed her initial application for benefits alleging
disability beginning on October 17, 2012, due to several
issues: affective disorder/depression; anxiety/paranoia;
hypertension; cardiovascular disorder; ankle disorder; and
right hand disorder. Her application was denied initially, on
reconsideration, and following an administrative hearing in
November 2015, at which she was represented by counsel. At
that hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Prasad and
vocational expert Thomas Gusloff. Ultimately, the ALJ found
that Prasad had the severe mental impairments of affective
disorder/depression and anxiety disorder/paranoia, but could
still perform certain jobs available in the national and
regional economy. Therefore, the ALJ determined that she was
not disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). The Appeals Council denied review
of the ALJ's opinion, making the ALJ's decision the
final determination of the Commissioner.
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability
benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008).
Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more
than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir.
2007). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could
differ” about the disability status of the claimant,
the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long
as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. While the ALJ is not
required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
benefits are available only to those individuals who can
establish disability under the terms of the Social Security
Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir.
1998). Specifically, the claimant must be 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social
Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation
process to be used in determining whether the claimant has
established a disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are used in the following
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
listed in the regulations;
4. Whether the claimant can still perform past relevant work;
5. Whether the claimant can perform other work in the