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Cornes v. Berryhill

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

April 16, 2018

RAQUEL N. CORNES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court.

         Plaintiff Raquel Cornes requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), finding that her disability had ended and she was no longer entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Court rules as follows.


         In a previous determination dated March 16, 2010, Cornes was found disabled by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) as of August 17, 2010. On August 16, 2013, as the result of a periodic review, it was determined that Cornes was no longer disabled as of that date. The cessation determination was subsequently upheld upon reconsideration. Thereafter, Cornes requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). An ALJ held a hearing on November 17, 2015, at which Cornes, proceeding without representation, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The ALJ issued her decision on May 4, 2016, finding that Cornes had not been disabled since August 16, 2013. After the Appeals Council denied Cornes's request for review on February 23, 2017, Cornes filed this action seeking judicial review on May 1, 2017.


         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 continues to be disabled, the Commissioner employs an eight-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity and any applicable trial work period has been completed, she is no longer disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1).

         At step two, 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; if so, her disability continues, and if not, the Commissioner proceeds to step three. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(2). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether medical improvement has occurred; if so, the analysis proceeds to step four, if not it proceeds to step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(3). At step four, the Commissioner determines if any medical improvement is related to the ability to work; if not, the disability continues, if so, the analysis proceeds to step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(4). At step five, the Commissioner determines if one of two groups of exceptions applies; if neither applies, the disability continues. If the first group applies, the analysis proceeds to step six, and if the second group applies, the claimant is no longer disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(5). At step six, the Commissioner determines whether all of the claimant's current impairments in combination are severe. If they are, the Commissioner proceeds to step seven; if they are not, the disability has ended. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(6). At step seven, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and determine if she can perform her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(7). If she can perform any of her past relevant work, the disability has ended, but if she cannot perform any of her past relevant work, the analysis proceeds to the last step. Id. At step eight, the Commissioner determines if there is other work that claimant can perform considering her age, education, past work experience, and RFC, with a limited burden shifting to the Commissioner to provide evidence that demonstrates that other work exists in significant numbers that claimant can still do given the relevant vocational factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(8). If the Commissioner finds other work that claimant can do, she is no longer disabled. Id. If the Commissioner cannot find other work that claimant can do, she remains disabled and entitled to DIB. Id.

         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 her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” she must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and her 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 Cornes had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. At step two, the ALJ found that Cornes did not have an impairment or combination of impairments which met or medically equaled the severity of any of the impairments in the Listing of Impairments. At step three the ALJ found that medical improvement occurred as of August 16, 2013. Using the most recent favorable determination as a point of comparison, where Cornes had been found to meet Listing 12.04 for her depression, the ALJ found at step four that medical improvement was related to the ability to work, because as of August 16, 2013, Cornes's impairment no longer met or medically equaled the listing. The ALJ did not document any step five findings. The ALJ found at step six that Cornes continued to have the following medically determinable impairments: degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, vertigo, dysthymia, borderline intellectual functioning, and obesity, which either alone or in combination were severe. The ALJ's RFC determination was as follows:

Based on the impairments present as of August 16, 2013, the claimant has had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) as the claimant is able to lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally, sit for six hours in an eight hour workday and stand and/or walk for two hours in an eight hour workday, except: the claimant needs to alternate between sitting and standing for five to ten minutes every hour while remaining on task at their workstation, is unable to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, may occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl or reach overhead bilaterally and must avoid all exposure to extreme temperatures and hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery. In addition, the claimant is able to understand, remember and carry out simple, routine tasks, can maintain adequate attention and concentration to carry out said tasks on jobs that do not involve fast paced production or daily quotas, is able to manage changes in a routine work-setting and is able to interact appropriately but on a superficial basis with co-workers and supervisors and occasional brief and superficial interaction with the general public.

         Record at 16. The ALJ concluded at step seven that Cornes was unable to perform past relevant work as a cleaner-housekeeper and home attendant. At step eight, the ALJ found, based on VE testimony considering Cornes's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she ...

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