United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
STACIE M. CRAIL, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, sued as Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins, United States Magistrate Judge
Stacie M. Crail appeals to the district court from a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application under
the Social Security Act (the “Act”) for
disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). (DE 1). For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
applied for DIB in October 2013, alleging disability as of
November 5, 2012. (DE 10 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 151-52). The Commissioner denied
Crail's application initially and upon reconsideration.
(AR 95-102). After a timely request, a hearing was held on
September 1, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge Yvonne K.
Stam (the “ALJ”), at which Crail, who was
represented by counsel; Crail's mother; and a vocational
expert testified. (AR 39-71). On November, 5, 2015, the ALJ
rendered an unfavorable decision to Crail, concluding that
she was not disabled because despite the limitations caused
by her impairments, she could perform a significant number of
jobs in the economy. (AR 20-33). Crail's request for
review was denied by the Appeals Council (AR 1-16), at which
point the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
filed a complaint with this Court on March 24, 2017, seeking
relief from the Commissioner's decision. (DE 1). In the
appeal, Crail alleges that the ALJ: (1) failed to properly
evaluate the opinion of Karen Lothamer, her treating
psychiatric nurse practitioner; and (2) improperly discounted
the credibility of Crail's symptom testimony. (DE 18 at
time of the ALJ's decision, Crail was 41 years old (AR
33, 151), had a high school education (AR 223), and had work
experience as a sales person, an insurance processor, and a
paralegal (AR 286). Crail alleges disability due to a
depressive disorder and a panic disorder. (DE 18 at 2).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of the Act grants this Court “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 cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court's
task is limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence, which means
“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) (citation omitted). The decision will be reversed only
if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ
applied an erroneous legal standard. Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000) (citation
determine if substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews
the entire administrative record but does not reweigh the
evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility,
or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's.
Id. Rather, if the findings of the Commissioner are
supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive.
Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003)
(citation omitted). “In other words, so long as, in
light of all the evidence, reasonable minds could differ
concerning whether [the claimant] is disabled, we must affirm
the ALJ's decision denying benefits.” Books v.
Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 1996).
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. §
Commissioner evaluates disability claims pursuant to a
five-step evaluation process, requiring consideration of 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 or
combination of impairments 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) (citations omitted); 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) (citation omitted). 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. (citation omitted). The burden of proof
lies with the claimant at every step except the fifth, where
it shifts to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at
868 (citation omitted).
The Commissioner's Final Decision
November 10, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision that ultimately
became the Commissioner's final decision. (AR 20-33). At
step one, the ALJ concluded that Crail had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity after her alleged onset date of
November 5, 2012. (AR 22). At step two, the ALJ found that
Crail's depressive disorder, not otherwise specified, and
her panic disorder were severe impairments. (AR 22-23). At
step three, the ALJ concluded that Crail did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to
meet or equal a listing. (AR 23-25).
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Crail's
symptom testimony was “not entirely credible” (AR