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Nordbye v. Berryhill

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

May 3, 2018




         Plaintiff Roxanna Kaye Nordbye seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security benefits and erred by failing to conduct a proper analysis to determine if her conditions were “severe” within the meaning of the statute, by failing to incorporate into her residual functional capacity all of the limiting effects of her medically determinable impairments, and by failing to appropriately weigh her work history in assessing her credibility.


         On July 23, 2013, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Tile XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on August 1, 2010. (R. 48.) Her claims were denied initially on October 31, 2013, and upon reconsideration on December 11, 2013. (Id.) On May 21, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Robert S. Barkhaus, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert (VE) also appeared by telephone. (Id.) On February 7, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-4.)

         On April 11, 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), 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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 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 alleged onset date, August 1, 2010. (R. 50.)

         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) and 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including fibromyalgia and obesity. (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 also found that the Plaintiff had multiple non-severe impairments. (R. 51-56.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not have any severe mental impairments that had lasted for more than twelve months. (R. 56.) Rather, the ALJ found only mild limitations in activities of daily living due to mental impairment, no deficits in social functioning, and only mild restriction in the claimant's ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace. (R. 57-58.)

         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), 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.” §§ 404.1520(d), 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, ” (§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 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.” §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 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 light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), and to:

[S]it six hours in an eight-hour workday, and stand and/or walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; lift, carry, push, and pull ten pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; occasionally balance, squat, kneel, crouch, and crawl; no ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, one to two flights at a time; and, occasional bending and stooping in addition to what is required to sit.

(R. 58.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her alleged onset date. (R. 48-63.) 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 preclude the claimant from sustaining more than a restricted range of light work activity.” (R. 60.) 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. The Plaintiff testified that fibromyalgia causes pain in her back, shoulder, knees, and feet. (R. 59.) She also indicted that “just about any” activity increases her pain, although she watches her grandchildren about three days a week. (Id.) The Plaintiff lives with her mother. (Id.) Regarding her work history, the Plaintiff testified that her most recent job ended due to downsizing and that she was ...

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