United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
Plaintiff, Michelle Lee Rector, seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration denying her application for supplemental
security income. The Plaintiff claims that the Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) committed error when he did not develop a
full and fair record for an unrepresented claimant, which
impacted the limitations he identified in the residual
functional capacity, and when he did not award at least a
closed period of disability.
reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, the Court affirms
the Commissioner's decision.
December 2013, the Plaintiff filed an application for
supplemental security income under Title XVI, alleging an
onset date of February 11, 2013. She claimed an inability to
work due to a compound fracture of her right foot and ankle,
which she sustained in a car accident. An ALJ conducted a
hearing, in which the Plaintiff and a vocational expert (VE)
participated. He issued a written decision on May 23, 2016,
denying the Plaintiff's request for benefits. The Appeals
Council denied the Plaintiff's request to review the
ALJ's decision, thereby making it the Agency's final
decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.1455(b), 416.1481, 422.210(a).
written decision, the ALJ followed the five-step process
outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, he
found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the application date. At steps two and
three, he found that the Plaintiff had a combination of
severe impairments-fracture of right fibula, talus, open
ankle fracture status-post open reduction internal fixation,
osteochondral lesion of right talus status-post arthroscopy
with excision, diffuse osteopenia, post-traumatic arthritis,
reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and status-post right Achilles
tendon lengthening, right medial cuneiform osteotomy and
total ankle replacement-but that none of them met or equaled
an impairment in 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925,
or 416.926. The ALJ noted that the Plaintiff had fractured
her right ankle in February 2013 and undergone three surgical
interventions, but that the record did not reflect gross
anatomical deformity or inability to ambulate effectively for
a continuous period of twelve months. Rather, the Plaintiff
returned to weight bearing status within a few months after
each surgery. While the Plaintiff had an antalgic gait, she
was able to ambulate effectively with assistive devices.
four, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work, as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a). Additionally, she
could lift/carry and push/pull no more than ten pounds. The
Plaintiff could sit for six hours with her right foot
elevated twelve inches off the ground, and could stand or
walk with the use of crutches no more than two hours out of
an eight-hour day. The ALJ further found that the Plaintiff
was limited to occasional climbing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and climbing ramps and stairs. She could never
crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.
final steps, the ALJ concluded that jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that the
Plaintiff could perform given her age, education, work
experience, and RFC. The ALJ thus determined that the
Plaintiff had not been under a disability within the meaning
of the Social Security Act since December 4, 2013, the date
of her application.
Court has jurisdiction of the Plaintiff's complaint for
review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
claimant is disabled only if she shows an 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).
She has the burden of proving disability. See Id.
§ 423(d)(5)(A). She must establish that her physical or
mental impairments “are of such severity that [s]he is
not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot,
considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” Id. §
will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and
denial of disability benefits if they are supported by
substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be
“more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Even if “reasonable minds
could differ” about the disability status of the
claimant, the court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision, and the decision cannot stand if it lacks
evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the
is not required to address every piece of evidence or
testimony presented, but the ALJ must provide a
“logical bridge” between the evidence and the
conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th
Cir. 2009). If the Commissioner commits an error of law,
remand is warranted without regard to the volume of ...