Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Cauley v. Berryhill

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

May 9, 2018

GINA M. CAULEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          William C. Lee, Judge United States District Court

         This 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 U.S.C. §405(g).

         The law 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).

         Given 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. 1980).

         In the present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the following findings:

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 404.1569(a)).
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).

         Based 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.

         Plaintiff 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 be remanded.

         A five 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 follows:

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 determinative inquiry.

         Plaintiff 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. 14-39).

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         Plaintiff 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.