United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
GINA M. CAULEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
William C. Lee, Judge United States District Court
matter is before the court for judicial review of a final
decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security
Administration denying Plaintiff's application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), as provided for in the
Social Security Act. Section 205(g) of the Act provides,
inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer, the [Commissioner]
shall file a certified copy of the transcript of the record
including the evidence upon which the findings and decision
complained of are based. The court shall have the power to
enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the case for a
rehearing." It also provides, "[t]he findings of
the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42
provides that an applicant for DIB must establish an
"inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous
period of no less than 12 months. . . ." 42 U.S.C.
§416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). A physical or
mental impairment is "an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(3). It is not enough for a plaintiff to
establish that an impairment exists. It must be shown that
the impairment is severe enough to preclude the plaintiff
from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Gotshaw v.
Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840 (7th Cir. 1962), cert. denied,
372 U.S. 945 (1963); Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp.
1098 (N.D.Ill. 1979). It is well established that the burden
of proving entitlement to disability insurance benefits is on
the plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d
36 (7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v. Cohen, 425 F.2d 20
(7th Cir. 1970).
the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this
court] is whether the record as a whole contains substantial
evidence to support the [Commissioner's] findings."
Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir.
1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786
(7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial
evidence is defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'"
Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir.
1984) quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v.
Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If
the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed, 42
U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of
law." Garfield, supra at 607; see
also Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir.
present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through June 30, 2019.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 9, 2013, the alleged onset date (20
CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
sacroiliac joint dysfunction syndrome, sacroiliitis,
lumbosacral radiculopathy, obesity, asthma, bipolar disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality
disorder. (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
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,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) but with the following limitations: she can
lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally and frequently; she
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl; she can never climb ladders, ropes,
and scaffolds; she should avoid concentrated exposure to
fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and other similar pulmonary
irritants; she can understand, remember, and carry out simple
instructions; she can make judgments on simple work related
decisions; she can respond appropriately to supervision,
co-workers, and usual work situations; and she can deal with
changes in a routine work setting.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on March 7, 1980 and was 33 years
old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on
the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41
and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
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 (20 CFR 404.1569 and
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from October 9, 2013, through the
date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
(Tr. 19- 31).
upon these findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not entitled to disability insurance benefits. The ALJ's
decision became the final agency decision when the Appeals
Council denied review. This appeal followed.
filed her opening brief on February 16, 2018. On March 30,
2018, the defendant filed a memorandum in support of the
Commissioner's decision, to which Plaintiff replied on
April 13, 2018. Upon full review of the record in this cause,
this court is of the view that the ALJ's decision should
step test has been established to determine whether a
claimant is disabled. See Singleton v. Bowen, 841
F.2d 710, 711 (7th Cir. 1988); Bowen v. Yuckert, 107
S.Ct. 2287, 2290-91 (1987). The United States Court of
Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has summarized that test as
The following steps are addressed in order: (1) Is the
claimant presently unemployed? (2) Is the claimant's
impairment "severe"? (3) Does the impairment meet
or exceed one of a list of specific impairments? (4) Is the
claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation? (5)
Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within the
economy? An affirmative answer leads either to the next step
or, on steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than step 3,
stops the inquiry and leads to a determination that the
claimant is not disabled.
Nelson v. Bowen, 855 F.2d 503, 504 n.2 (7th Cir.
1988); Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2
(7th Cir. 1985); accord Halvorsen v. Heckler, 743
F.2d 1221 (7th Cir. 1984). From the nature of the ALJ's
decision to deny benefits, it is clear that Step 5 was the
filed her application for disability benefits on March 6,
2014, alleging disability beginning October 9, 2013. (Tr.
189-190). On behalf of SSA, the Indiana Disability
Determination Bureau (DDB) denied Plaintiff's application
initially on April 11, 2014, and upon reconsideration on
August 6, 2014. (Tr. 121-129, 131-137). In response to a
timely-filed request, ALJ Stephanie Katich held a hearing on
December 9, 2015. (Tr. 40-87, 138-139). Plaintiff and a
vocational expert, Amy Kutschbach, appeared and testified at
the hearing. (Tr. 40). Plaintiff was represented at the
hearing by attorney Ann Trzynka. (Tr. 14). On February 28,
2016, ALJ Katich issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was
not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act. (Tr.
asked SSA's Appeals Council to review the decision, and
on December 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied her request.
(Tr. 1-7, 186-188). Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed her
complaint in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
was 33 years old and considered a “younger
person” as of October 9, 2013, the date she alleged her
disability began. (Tr. 88). She has an associate's degree
in surgical technology and has past relevant work as a
surgical technologist. (Tr. 70, 220). That job is classified
by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles as a skilled job at
light exertional level, but the job was medium in exertion as
Plaintiff performed the job. (Tr. 70).
testified that she stopped working in October 2013 due to her
pain. At that time she was working at Lutheran Hospital as a
surgical technologist and was in so much pain that she was
crying at work and after her shifts, had to have other people
do some of her jobs, and had difficulty walking after she got
home. (Tr. 54, 58-59). She was experiencing pain in her lower
back, mid-back, hip, and SI joint and was on a lot of pain
medication. (Tr. 58). Her ...