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Herrold v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

June 14, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Kathleen R. Herrold on February 13, 2017, and on an Opening Brief [DE 18], filed by Plaintiff on September 11, 2017. Plaintiff requests that the January 29, 2016 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim for disability insurance benefits be reversed and remanded for further proceedings or for an award of benefits. On November 20, 2017, the Commissioner filed a response. Plaintiff filed a reply brief on December 6, 2017. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand for further administrative proceedings.


         On October 8, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on January 28, 2010. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. A hearing was held on May 10, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Jonathan Stanley, and on May 17, 2012, ALJ Stanley issued a decision denying the application. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied the request. Plaintiff sought judicial review, and, on March 17, 2015, Magistrate Judge John E. Martin, presiding by consent of the parties, granted Plaintiff's request to remand the matter to the agency for further proceedings. On remand, the Appeals Council remanded the matter to an ALJ for a hearing and new decision. ALJ Romona Scales held a hearing on December 1, 2015. She issued a written decision on February 3, 2016, denying benefits and making the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2012.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 28, 2010 through her date last insured of June 30, 2012.
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: arachnoid cyst; rheumatoid arthritis; degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; fibromyalgia; hypertension; obesity; depressive disorder; and anxiety disorder.
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), as the claimant could lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and sit, stand or walk for 6 hours each in an 8-hour workday. The claimant could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds but could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant could frequently handle, finger, and reach bilaterally. The claimant had to avoid exposure to hazards, including unprotected heights; moving machinery; and slippery, uneven surfaces. The claimant could have occasional exposure to extreme cold. The claimant could understand, remember, and carry[ ]out unskilled tasks or instructions; maintain adequate attention and concentration for such tasks or ongoing [sic]; and manage the changes in a routine, unskilled work setting. The claimant required no fast-paced production work or quotas. The claimant could have had ongoing, superficial interaction with the general public.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1963] and was 48 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date last insured.
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English.
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.
10. Through the date last insured, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed.
11. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 28, 2010, the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2012, the date last insured.

(AR 423-34).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Agency's decision.

         The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final decision of the agency and indicates that the Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003)).

         A court reviews the entire administrative record but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ “uses the correct legal standards and the decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). “[I]f the Commissioner commits an error of law, ” the Court may reverse the decision “without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings.” White v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997)).

         At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of her reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ must “‘build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion' so that [a reviewing court] may assess the validity of the agency's final decision and afford [a claimant] meaningful review.” Giles v. Astrue, 483 F.3d 483, 487 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Scott, 297 F.3d at 595)); see also O'Connor-Spinner, 627 F.3d at 618 (“An ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence, but must provide a ‘logical bridge' between ...

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