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Gibbeny v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

April 17, 2018




         Plaintiff Shelley L. Gibbeny seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security Disability benefits and erred by failing to give controlling weight to the Plaintiff's treating psychologist's opinion and failing to find her kleptomania disabling.


         On May 24, 2013, the Plaintiff filed her third Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on March 1, 2009. (R. 36.) Her claim was denied initially on August 29, 2013, and upon reconsideration on November 20, 2013. (Id.) On May 12, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared via phone with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Id.) On August 24, 2015, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application. (R. 47.) Sharon D. Ringenberg, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. (R. 36.) On March 16, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-4.) On May 15, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.


         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 be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in SGA since her alleged onset date, March 1, 2009, and that the Plaintiff's date last insured was September 30, 2012. (R. 36, 38.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder in addition to a combination of physical impairments, none of which the ALJ found to be individually severe, but which the ALJ found were severe in combination. (R.38.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work. (Id.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of the [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things she can still do physically, despite her limitations-to determine whether she can perform “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that she had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except that:

She is limited to no work with the general public and only brief and superficial interactions with co-workers and supervisors in a relatively unchanging work setting and process with no requirement for fast paced work.

(R. 43.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her alleged onset date. The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments “could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms.” (R. 45.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms “were not entirely credible.” (Id.)

         As to the Plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ considered the opinions of various medical professionals. State Agency psychological consultants found that the Plaintiff's affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder were severe, but found only a mild deficit in adaptive functioning, which the ALJ acknowledged was contradictory. (R. 41.) The State Agency consultants did not discuss the Plaintiff's diagnoses of kleptomania and substance abuse. The ALJ also considered treatment records from Dr. James Cates, who initially treated the claimant in the 1990s but did not resume treatment until September 2009. (Id.) The ALJ found that the evidence prior to the Plaintiff's date last insured ...

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