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Sorrels v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

June 7, 2018

LAURA SORRELS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ORDER

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Laura Sorrels (“Sorrels”) appeals the final decision of the Deputy Commissioner for Operations (“Deputy Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her April 30, 2014, applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”).[2] R. (Dkt. 13) at 14. The applications were initially denied on August 19, 2014, R. at 116, and upon reconsideration on October 15, 2014. R. at 128. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on March 17, 2016, R. at 29, resulting in a decision on June 27, 2016, that Sorrels was not disabled and thus not entitled to receive DIB or SSI. R. at 11. The Appeals Council denied review on April 5, 2017, and the Deputy Commissioner's decision became final. R. at 1. On June 9, 2017, Sorrels timely filed this action seeking judicial review of that decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Dkt. 1.

         For the reasons below, the decision is reversed and the case remanded for action consistent with this order.

         Background[3]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i) to (v), in concluding that Sorrels is not disabled. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

• Preliminarily with respect to Sorrels's DIB claim, Sorrels last met the insured status requirements on June 30, 2005. R. at 16.
• At Step One, Sorrels had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[4]since February 15, 2004, the alleged disability onset date. Id.
• At Step Two, Sorrels suffered from the following severe impairments: osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Id.
• At Step Three, Sorrels did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. R. at 17.
• At Step Four, Sorrels had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to “perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that she is able to lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. [Sorrels] can stand and/or walk six hours of an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours of an eight-hour workday. [Sorrels] must alternate positions for 1-2 minutes every 30 minutes. [Sorrels] can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. [Sorrels] can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. [Sorrels] must avoid moderate use of moving machinery and exposure to unprotected heights. [Sorrels] is able to understand, remember, and follow simple to mildly complex instructions. [Sorrels] is restricted to work that involves brief, superficial interactions with fellow workers and the public. [Sorrels] is able to sustain attention and concentration skills to carry out work-like tasks with reasonable pace and persistence. The work must not require driving. The work must allow a flexible pace free of fast-paced production. [Sorrels] must be allowed to be off-task 2-5 minutes every hour. The work must accommodate one absence per month.” R. at 19.
• At Step Five, relying on the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”) and in light of Sorrels's age (41), education (high-school equivalency and medical assistant degrees), past work experience (none relevant), and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy which Sorrels could have performed through the date of the decision. R. at 23-24.

         Standard of Review

         Upon review of the Deputy Commissioner's decision,

[w]e will uphold [it] if it applies the correct legal standard and is supported by substantial evidence. Castile v. Astrue,617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Id. (quoting Skinner v. Astrue,478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). A decision denying benefits need not discuss every piece of evidence, but if it lacks an adequate discussion of the issues, it will be remanded. Villano v. Astrue,556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009). ...

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