United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge
Claire Michaeli appeals to the district court from a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying her application under the
Social Security Act (the “Act”) for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). For the following
reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.
January 17, 2013, Michaeli filed for DIB, alleging disability
beginning on December 29, 2011. (DE 10 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 22, 164-66). Michaeli's claim was
denied initially on February 25, 2013, and upon
reconsideration on June 5, 2013. (AR 92-103). Michaeli filed
a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
(AR 104-05). On August 5, 2014, Administrative Law Judge
Maryann Bright (the “ALJ”) held a hearing, at
which Michaeli and Sharon Ringenberg, a vocational expert
(the “VE”), testified. (AR 36-73).
was represented by attorney Randal Forbes at the hearing
before the ALJ. (AR 36).
October 31, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding that Michaeli was not disabled because during the
alleged period of disability she could perform a significant
number of jobs in the national economy. (AR 19-31). Michaeli
requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision (AR 14-16), and the Appeals Council denied her
request, making the ALJ's decision the final, appealable
decision of the Commissioner (AR 1-3).
March 11, 2016, Michaeli filed a complaint with this Court
seeking relief from the Commissioner's final decision.
(DE 1). In her appeal, Michaeli alleges that the ALJ erred in
assessing her credibility, resulting in a flawed residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) determination. In
particular, Michaeli claims that the ALJ erred by: (1)
overemphasizing her ability to perform daily activities; (2)
improperly considering her inability to afford treatment; and
(3) failing to favorably consider her good work history prior
to her alleged onset date. (DE 18 at 7).
THE ALJ's FINDINGS
the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB if she establishes 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 not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1), 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. §
determining whether Michaeli is disabled as defined by the
Act, the ALJ conducted the familiar five-step analytical
process, which required her to consider the following issues
in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is currently
unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
of the impairments listed by the Commissioner, see
20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1; (4) whether the
claimant is unable to perform her past work; and (5) whether
the claimant is incapable of performing work in the national
economy. See Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d
1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. An
affirmative answer leads either to the next step or, on steps
three and five, to a finding that the claimant is disabled.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
2001). A negative answer at any point other than step three
stops the inquiry and leads to a finding that the claimant is
not disabled. Id. The burden of proof lies with the
claimant at every step except the fifth, where it shifts to
the Commissioner. Id. at 885-86.
one, the ALJ found that Michaeli had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of
December 29, 2011. (AR 24). At step two, the ALJ found that
Michaeli had the following severe impairments: prosthetic
right eye, minor cataract in the left eye, mild degenerative
disc disease, and hearing loss. (AR 24-26).
three, the ALJ concluded that Michaeli did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to
meet or equal a listing. (AR 26-67). Before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ determined that Michaeli's symptom
testimony was “not entirely credible” and
assigned her the following RFC:
[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform light work . . .
except that she is only occasionally able to climb ramps and
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She is not
able to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds at all. She can
engage in tasks requiring only occasional peripheral acuity.
She should avoid all exposure to excessive noise and hazards,
such as slippery/uneven surfaces, unprotected heights, and
(AR 27). Based on this RFC, the ALJ found at step four that
Michaeli could not perform her past relevant work as a home
health aide. (AR 29). The ALJ considered the testimony of the
VE and other evidence in the record and determined at step
five that Michaeli could perform other jobs in the national
economy that exist in ...