United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge
Robin Shaw-Hughes 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
Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). (DE 1). For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
applied for SSI in December 2013, alleging disability as of
February 1, 1997, which she later amended to October 30,
2013. (DE 9 Administrative Record (“AR”) 12,
240-51). The Commissioner denied Shaw-Hughes's
application initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 119,
132). A hearing was held on September 9, 2015, before
Administrative Law Judge Daniel Balutis (the
“ALJ”), at which Shaw-Hughes's attorney and a
vocational expert appeared, but Shaw-Hughes failed to appear.
(AR 89-107). A second hearing was held on January 17, 2016,
before the ALJ at which Shaw-Hughes, who was represented by
an attorney, and a vocational expert testified. (AR 30-88).
On February 5, 2016, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision
to Shaw-Hughes, concluding that she was not disabled because
she could perform a significant number of unskilled, light
work jobs in the economy despite the limitations caused by
her impairments. (AR 12-23). The Appeals Council denied
Shaw-Hughes's request for review (AR 1-5), at which point
the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481.
filed a complaint with this Court on April 17, 2017, seeking
relief from the Commissioner's decision. (DE 1).
Shaw-Hughes asserts that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to
request a consultative examination to fully and fairly
develop the record regarding her physical impairments; and
(2) failing to fully credit the opinion of Dr. Jay Patel, her
treating psychiatrist. (DE 13 at 12-17).
time of the ALJ's decision, Shaw-Hughes was 48 years old
(AR 23, 240); had completed the 11th grade (AR 265); and had
past work experience as a clerical intern, a dishwasher, a
production worker, and a telemarketer (AR 265, 348, 352). At
the time of the hearing, Shaw Hughes was five feet, three
inches tall, and weighed 164 pounds. (AR 37). In her SSI
application, Shaw-Hughes alleged disability due to a
schizoaffective disorder, depression, and nerve damage in her
neck. (AR 264).
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 of Social Security, with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). 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.
determine if substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews
the entire administrative record but does not re-weigh 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.
Id. Nonetheless, “substantial evidence”
review should not be a simple rubber-stamp of the
Commissioner's decision. Id.
the Act, a plaintiff is entitled to SSI if she “is
unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than twelve
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(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 Shaw-Hughes is disabled as defined by the
Act, the ALJ conducted the familiar five-step analytical
process, which required him to assess 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); 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. 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.
The ALJ's Decision
February 5, 2016, the ALJ issued the decision that ultimately
became the Commissioner's final decision. (AR 12-23). He
found at step one of the five-step analysis that while
Shaw-Hughes had worked briefly as a housekeeper in August
2015 and as a bell ringer in November 2015, she had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity after her application
date of October 30, 2013. (AR 14). At step two, the ALJ
determined that Shaw-Hughes had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease, cervical and lumbar
spines; obesity; schizoaffective disorder; alcohol
dependence; and cocaine dependence. (AR 14). At step three,
the ALJ found that Shaw-Hughes's impairment or
combination of impairments were not severe enough to meet a
listing. (AR 15).
proceeding to step four, the ALJ concluded that
Shaw-Hughes's symptom testimony was not entirely credible