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Williams v. Berryhill

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

July 4, 2018

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


          Mark J. Dinsmore, Judge

         Tenisha J. Williams (“Williams”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3)(A). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Judge REVERSE and REMAND the decision for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

         I. Background

         Williams filed an application for DIB and SSI on October 22, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of September 3, 2013. [Dkt. 13-7 at 3, 7.] Williams alleges disability due to lupus, stroke, diabetes, and depression.[1] [Dkt. 13-8 at 6.] Williams' application was initially denied on January 9, 2014, and denied again on May 8, 2014, upon reconsideration. Williams timely filed a written request for a hearing, which was held on July 30, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge Jody Hilger Odell (the “ALJ”). [Dkt. 13-4 at 16-59.] The ALJ issued a decision on April 6, 2016, denying Williams' applications for DBI and SSI. [Dkt. 13-2 at 16-32.] On March 30, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 13-2 at 2.] Williams timely filed this action on May 24, 2017, seeking judicial review of the decision denying her benefits. [Dkt. 1.]

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB or SSI, a claimant must have a disability within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 423.[2] Disability is defined as the “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).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ applies a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities, she is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and she is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and cannot perform her past relevant work but she can perform certain other available work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Before proceeding from step three to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), identifying the claimant's functional limitations and assessing her remaining capacity for work-related activities. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *3 (July 2, 1996).

         The ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. The Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ; rather, it may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ “need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted.” Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). The ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision; she must “provide some glimpse into her reasoning” and “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that Williams has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the September 3, 2013 alleged onset date. [Dkt. 13-2 at 21.] At step two, the ALJ determined that Williams has severe impairments of cerebrovascular accident/cerebrovascular disease, Bell's palsy, lupus, and reconstructive surgery of a weight bearing joint. [Id.] However at step three, the ALJ found that Williams does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairments. [Dkt. 13-2 at 23.] In making this determination, the ALJ considered Listings 1.02 (Major dysfunction of a joint(s)), 11.04 (Vascular insult to the brain), and 14.02 (Systemic lupus erythematosus). [Dkt. 13-2 at 23.]

         The ALJ next analyzed Williams' RFC, concluding that she has the RFC to perform a range of light work with these restrictions:

[L]ift, carry, push, and pull 20 pounds and up to 10 pounds frequently; sit for six hours per eight-hour workday; stand for six hours per eight-hour workday; walk for six hours per eight-hour workday; frequently reach overhead with the left upper extremity; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.

[Id.] In finding these limitations, the ALJ considered Williams' “symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence.” [Id.] At step four, the ALJ concluded that Williams is unable to perform any past relevant work. [Dkt. 13-2 at 29.] The ALJ proceeded to step five, using testimony from the vocational expert that someone with Williams' age, education, work experience, and RFC would be able to perform unskilled light occupations such as mail clerk (non-postal), office machine operator, and office helper. [Dkt. 13-2 at 31.] Because the ALJ found these jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy, she concluded that Williams was not disabled. [Id.]

         IV. ...

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