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Reed v. Berryhill

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

June 4, 2018

JENNIFER REED, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          William C. Lee, Judge

         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 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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 SSI 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 engaged in substantial gainful activity at times since the amended alleged onset date but there have been continuous 12-month periods in which she did not engage in substantial gainful activity (20 CFR 416.920(b) and 416.971 et seq).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: coronary artery disease with a history of myocardial infarctions with quadruple coronary artery bypass grafting and coronary artery stenting; peripheral vascular disease with stenting of the left leg; fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus with neuropathy, hypertension, COPD, degenerative joint disease of the left hip, and mild disc desiccation and narrowing with a small disc protrusion at ¶ 5-S1 that results in mild encroachment of the thecal sac. She has a very recent diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome which is reflected in the limitations of function with respect to the very recent period since January 2016 (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. 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 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, prior to January 2016, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that she was not able to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds at all and she could only occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl, balance, and use ramps and stairs. She could occasionally bend and stoop in addition to what is required to sit. Aside from use of ramps and stairs on an occasional basis, she could not work upon uneven surfaces. The claimant needed to avoid work within close proximity to open and exposed heights and open and dangerous machinery, such as open flames and fast-moving, exposed blades. The claimant was limited from concentrated exposure to excessive airborne particulate, dust, fumes, and gases and excessive heat, humidity, and cold, such as when working outside or within a sawmill, boiler room, chemical plant, green house, refrigerator, or sewage plant. Beginning with January 2016, the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and occasionally throughout the workday. She can occasionally push and pull 10 pounds throughout the workday. She can sit 4 hours at a time and for a total of 5 hours in an eight-hour workday. She can also stand and/or walk at least 3 hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant is limited to frequent, not constant, fingering, feeling, gripping, and fine manipulation of small objects, such as a pen or paper clip, as well as to frequent, not constant, gross manipulation and handling, grasping, turning, and gripping of larger objects. She can frequently use foot controls. She should not climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds but she can occasionally use ramps and stairs, balance, bend, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant should avoid work within proximity to open and exposed heights and open and dangerous machinery, such as open flames and fast-moving, exposed blades. She is also limited from concentrated exposure to excessive airborne particulate, dust, fumes, and gases and excessive heat, humidity, and cold, such as when working outside or within a sawmill, boiler room, chemical plant, green house, refrigerator, or sewage plant. She requires a cane for prolonged ambulation and when upon uneven surfaces.
5. The claimant is able to perform her past relevant work for the period prior to January 2016 but not beginning with January 2016 (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on June 25, 1975 and was 37 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. 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).
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity both for the period prior to January 2016 and for the period beginning January 2016, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy ...

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