United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
R. CHERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by
Plaintiff Stephanie Ann Buck on March 30, 2017, and
Plaintiff's Opening Brief [DE 10], filed by Plaintiff on
August 9, 2017. Plaintiff requests that the November 27, 2015
decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim
for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits or
for further proceedings. On September 13, 2017, the
Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on
September 26, 2017. For the following reasons, the Court
denies Plaintiff's request for remand.
September 4 and September 26, 2013, Plaintiff filed
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, respectively, alleging
disability since July 19, 2013. The applications were denied
initially and on reconsideration. On October 29, 2015,
Administrative Law Judge Shane McGovern (“ALJ”)
held a hearing. In attendance at the hearing were Plaintiff,
Plaintiff's attorney Randall J. Zromkoski, and an
impartial vocational expert. On November 27, 2015, the ALJ
issued a written decision denying benefits, making the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since July 19, 2013, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
dysthymic disorder/depression; ADHD; anxiety disorder;
learning disorder NOS; seronegative spondyloarthropathy;
ankylosing spondylitis; fibromyalgia; morbid obesity;
obstructive sleep apnea and asthma.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except she could
occasionally push/pull bilaterally; no operation of foot
controls; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; never
kneel or crawl; occasionally climb ramps and stairs;
occasionally balance, stoop and crouch; frequently handle,
finger and feel bilaterally; no exposure to extreme cold or
extreme heat; no exposure to excessive vibration; occasional
exposure to irritants, such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases and
poorly ventilated areas; no exposure to unprotected heights
or dangerous moving machinery and occasional walking on
uneven surfaces. She is further limited to simple, routine
and repetitive tasks and frequent interactions with
coworkers, but only occasional interaction with the public
6. The claimant has no past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1987] and was 26 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49 on the
alleged disability onset date.
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the
claimant does not have past relevant work.
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from July 19, 2013, through the
date of this decision.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
416.1481. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Agency's decision.
parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to
a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further
proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in
this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide
this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C.
Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final
decision of the agency and indicates that the
Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ
will reverse only if the findings are not supported by
substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous
legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d
345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir.
2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470
(7th Cir. 2003)).
reviews the entire administrative record but does not
reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir.
2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th
Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055
(7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of
an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the
claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ
“uses the correct legal standards and the decision is
supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v.
Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618
(7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d
731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart,
381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). “[I]f the
Commissioner commits an error of law, ” the Court may
reverse the decision “without regard to the volume of
evidence in support of the factual findings.” White
v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing
Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir.
minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence
in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of
his reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the
important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d
589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d
300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d
96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ must “‘build an
accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the]
conclusion' so that [a reviewing court] may assess the
validity of the agency's final decision and afford [a
claimant] meaningful review.” Giles v. Astrue,
483 F.3d 483, 487 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Scott,
297 F.3d at 595)); see also O'Connor-Spinner,
627 F.3d at 618 (“An ALJ need not specifically address
every piece of evidence, but must provide a ‘logical
bridge' between the evidence and his
conclusions.”); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he ALJ's analysis
must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [the]
decision to deny benefits.”).
eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that she suffers from a “disability” as defined
by the Social Security Act and regulations. The Act defines
“disability” as an inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). To be found disabled, the claimant's
impairment must not only prevent her from doing her previous
work, but considering her age, education, and work
experience, it must also prevent her from engaging in any
other type of substantial gainful activity that exists in
significant numbers in the economy. 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R. §§
claimant alleges a disability, Social Security regulations
provide a five-step inquiry to evaluate whether the claimant
is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). The steps are: (1) Is the
claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity? If yes, the
claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no, the
inquiry proceeds to step two; (2) Does the claimant have an
impairment or combination of impairments that are severe? If
no, the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if
yes, the inquiry proceeds to step three; (3) Do(es) the
impairment(s) meet or equal a listed impairment in the
appendix to the regulations? If yes, the claimant is
automatically considered disabled; if no, then the inquiry
proceeds to step four; (4) Can the claimant do the
claimant's past relevant work? If yes, the claimant is
not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no, then the
inquiry proceeds to step five; (5) Can the claimant perform
other work given the claimant's residual functional
capacity (RFC), age, education, and experience? If yes, then
the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no,
the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v); see also
Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699-700 (7th Cir.
steps four and five, the ALJ must consider an assessment of
the claimant's RFC. The RFC “is an administrative
assessment of what work-related activities an individual can
perform despite [her] limitations.” Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1178 (7th Cir. 2001). The RFC
should be based on evidence in the record. Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 676 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3)). The claimant bears the burden
of proving steps one through four, whereas the burden at step
five is on the ALJ. Zurawski, 245 F.3d at 885-86;
see also Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th
receives mental health treatment from Porter-Starke Services
for dysthymic disorder, neurotic depression, learning
disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD) predominately inattentive-type. (AR
302). In June and July 2013, treatment notes
show depressed mood but intact mental status with normal
cognition, memory, thought content, and gait and station. (AR
308, 312). Plaintiff reported she was doing well on her
medications. (AR 312). Her medication was switched from
Prozac to Cymbalta in July 2013, and she subsequently
reported through November 2013 that the Cymbalta worked well
and that she had good sleep and was able to babysit. (AR 309,
587, 589, 591, 593, 597). In October 2013, Plaintiff reported
that she was doing well on her current medications; however,
she was trying to cope with social relationship stressors.
October 2013, Plaintiff received treatment at HealthLinc with
a social worker, and the records show mild depression and
that journaling helped with stress management. (AR 333, 335).
During this time period, Plaintiff treated with a physician
and nurse practitioner and occasionally complained of hip,
back, and leg pain, though examinations were unremarkable.
October 2013, Plaintiff underwent a consultative examination
with Dr. Bharat Pithadia, to whom she described a history of
mental health issues but reported being fine and that her
medications helped. (AR 599). Dr. Pithadia noted mild
cognitive impairment but stated that Plaintiff answered
questions fully and appropriately and was not affected in her
daily activities by cognitive limitations. (AR 601). Dr.
Pithadia noted that Plaintiff had nonantalgic gait without
assistive devices, she had no difficulty getting on and off
the table, she could walk on heels and toes and had a normal
tandem gait, she could squat, and she had grossly normal
range of motion in the neck. (AR 599-601). However, Dr.
Pithadia found Plaintiff to have a positive straight leg
raise test and limited range of motion in the lumbar spine.
(AR 600-01). The physical examination was otherwise normal
with full range of motion in the upper and lower extremities.
(AR 601). Dr. Pithadia found Plaintiff to have normal power
in her hands and commented that Plaintiff's “range
of motion with respect to the back was more than
adequate.” (AR 601). As for physical impairments, Dr.
Pithadia noted “none was detected.” (AR 601).
April 26, 2014, Plaintiff presented to the emergency room
with complaints of generalized body aches. (AR 636).
Plaintiff reported that she has fibromyalgia, that she had
trigger points shots in her back the day before, and that she
had started to get spasms in her back three hours earlier.
Id. Physical examination revealed lower back
tenderness, pain, and spasm but normal sensation and
strength, and she was not prescribed any new medications. (AR
638-39). On May 24, 2014, an x-ray of her thoracic spine