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Klug v. Berryhill

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

May 4, 2018




         Plaintiff Angela Marie Klug seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits as well as supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security benefits and erred by failing to include limitations in her residual functional capacity related to all of her impairments, failing to appropriately develop the record, and improperly holding the Plaintiff's non-compliance with treatment regimens against her credibility.


         On July 18, 2013, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning September 30, 2010. (R. 39.) Her claims were denied initially on February 11, 2014, and upon reconsideration on April 15, 2014. (Id.) On September 10, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with a non-attorney representative and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Marie N. Kieffer, an impartial vocational expert (VE) also appeared. (Id.) On February 8, 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 10, 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 been unable to engage in SGA since her alleged onset date, September 30, 2010. (R. 41.)

         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), 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including fibromyalgia/osteoarthritis, in particular back pain with early stenosis and right shoulder pain; migraine/sinus headaches; depression; bipolar disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (R. 42.) 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 bowel problems, but concluded that this condition was non-severe. (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), 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), except that she is additionally limited as follows:

[S]he can only perform a total of two out of eight hours of standing/walking, in combination, in an 8 hour workday; she can only perform occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; she can never perform climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; she can do only occasional reaching overhead with the right upper extremity; she should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, humidity, wetness, loud noise, and bright/flashing lights; she should avoid even moderate exposure to hazards (i.e. operational control of dangerous moving machinery, unprotected heights, slippery/uneven/moving surfaces). Mentally, the claimant cannot understand, remember, or carry out detailed or complex job instructions, but can perform simple, repetitive tasks on a sustained basis (meaning 8 hours a day/5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule); she cannot perform tasks requiring intense/focused attention for prolonged periods; she needs work at a flexible pace (where the employee is allowed some independence in determining either the timing of different work activities, or pace of work); she can only tolerate casual/superficial interactions with others, including supervisors, coworkers, and the general public; and only occasional interactions with the general public.

(R. 44.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her alleged onset date. (R. 44-52.) 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. 46.) 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.) The Plaintiff testified that she drops dishes due to cramping in her hand; she tries to clean her house, but it takes one or two days to complete; she has to use the restroom every hour or two; loud noises and bright lights trigger her headaches; she experiences alternating constipation and diarrhea; she can walk for 15 minutes, stand for 10 minutes, sit for 2 hours, and lift/carry 5 to 10 pounds; her right shoulder ...

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