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Warren v. Berryhill

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

April 17, 2018

VERA Y. WARREN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Vera Y. Warren seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her supplemental security income and erred by failing to incorporate all of her limitations into her residual functional capacity and by failing to logically articulate the limitations in her residual functional capacity.

         BACKGROUND

         On August 20, 2013, the Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on March 28, 1998. (R. 168.) The Plaintiff was found to be under a disability as a result of a previous Title XVI application, but the Social Security Administration determined that her disability abated as of August 1, 2004. (Id.) The Plaintiff then filed another Title XVI application in November 2008, which was denied, and a subsequent application in 2010, which was denied on April 23, 2012. (Id.) The Plaintiff did not appeal these denials to the Appeals Council. (Id.) As a result, without reopening her prior applications- which the ALJ has stated there is no basis to do-she cannot be found disabled prior to April 24, 2012. (R. 169.)

         The Plaintiff's present claim was denied initially on November 14, 2013, and upon reconsideration on January 9, 2014. (R. 168.) On July 9, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Id.) Marie N. Kieffer, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared at the hearing. (Id.) On September 14, 2015, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled since the date of her application, August 20, 2013.[1] (R. 168-90.) On May 12, 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 July 11, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. 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 application date, August 20, 2013. (R. 171.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, asthma, obesity, hyperlipidemia, a recent occurrence of trochanteric bursitis, and a history of gunshot wounds with residual effects in the joints. (Id.) 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.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's other alleged impairments were not severe impairments.

         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 . . . .” § 416.920(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.” § 416.920(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, ” § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 416.920(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 a limited range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a). The ALJ found that her capacities were further reduced in that:

[A]lthough she can stand and walk for two hours out of an eight-hour workday, she needs to use a cane for prolonged ambulation and walking on uneven surfaces. Otherwise, the claimant can sit for at least six hours during an eight-hour workday. She can work and reach overhead on an occasional basis and is able to frequently and occasionally lift, carry, push and pull ten pounds. As to postural changes, she can climb ramps and stairs; balance; use foot controls, and bend and stoop, in addition to is required to sit, on occasional basis, but can never kneel, crouch, crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. With respect to her work environment, the claimant must avoid frequent exposure to excessive and extreme heat, cold, humidity, and pulmonary irritants including fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poorly ventilated areas. The claimant cannot work on vibrating surfaces or with vibrating tools such as a ...

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