Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Mason v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

July 30, 2018

KRISTEN Y. MASON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Kristen Y. Mason on May 9, 2017, and a Plaintiff's Opening Brief [DE 8], filed by Plaintiff on August 25, 2017. Plaintiff requests that the December 11, 2015 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim for disability insurance benefits be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits or for further proceedings. On November 3, 2017, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on November 17, 2017. For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's request for remand.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed an initial application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning October 31, 2011. (AR 79).[1] On behalf of the Social Security Administration, the Indiana Disability Determination Bureau approved Plaintiff's application on June 3, 2013, finding that she was disabled for a closed period from October 31, 2011, to March 5, 2013. Her claim was approved for the closed period because she returned to work at the substantial gainful activity level on March 5, 2013. (AR 87).

         On November 14, 2013, Plaintiff filed a new application for disability benefits and alleged an onset date of September 30, 2013. (AR 89). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing and, in a pre-hearing brief, requested the reopening of her prior application. (AR 253-58). On August 13, 2015, Administrative Law Judge William Pierson (“ALJ”) held a hearing by video conference. In attendance at the hearing were Plaintiff, Plaintiff's attorney, and an impartial vocational expert. On December 11, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision that addressed the period of both applications and determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from October 31, 2011, through the date of the December 11, 2015 decision, revising the prior decision that had established disability for the closed period. The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
2. The claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity during the following periods: March 5, 2013, to October 1, 2013.
3. However, there have been continuous 12-month periods during which the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity. The remaining findings address the periods the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity.
4. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with a history of diagnosis of lumbar radiculitis; prior pain clinic diagnosis of sacroiliitis, spondylosis/arthropathy/radiculopathy/lumbago; more recent diagnoses of neuropathy/vitamin deficiencies; much more recent diagnoses of mild osteoarthritis of the hips, mild degenerative changes in the right ankle, and a calcaneal spur in the left ankle; and, obesity.
5. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
6. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a).
7. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
8. The claimant was born [in 1968] and was 43 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the originally alleged disability onset date of October 31, 2011. She is currently 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual 45-49 years old.
9. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English.
10. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because applying the Medical-Vocational Rules directly supports a finding of “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
11. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
12. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 31, 2011, through the date of this decision.

(AR 16-22).

         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).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 his analysis of the evidence in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his 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 the evidence and his conclusions.”); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [the] decision to deny benefits.”).

         DISABILITY STANDARD

         To be eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must establish that she suffers from a “disability” as defined by the Social Security Act and regulations. The Act defines “disability” as an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To be found disabled, the claimant's impairment must not only prevent her from doing her previous work, but considering her age, education, and work experience, it must also prevent her from engaging in any other type of substantial gainful activity that exists in significant numbers in the economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e)-(f).

         When a claimant alleges a disability, Social Security regulations provide a five-step inquiry to evaluate whether the claimant is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The steps are: (1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity? If yes, the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no, the inquiry proceeds to step two; (2) Does the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments that are severe? If no, the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if yes, the inquiry proceeds to step three; (3) Do(es) the impairment(s) meet or equal a listed impairment in the appendix to the regulations? If yes, the claimant is automatically considered disabled; if no, then the inquiry proceeds to step four; (4) Can the claimant do the claimant's past relevant work? If yes, the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no, then the inquiry proceeds to step five; (5) Can the claimant perform other work given the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and experience? If yes, then the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); see also Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699-700 (7th Cir. 2004).

         At steps four and five, the ALJ must consider an assessment of the claimant's RFC. The RFC “is an administrative assessment of what work-related activities an individual can perform despite [her] limitations.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1178 (7th Cir. 2001). The RFC should be based on evidence in the record. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 676 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1545(a)(3)). The claimant bears the burden of proving steps one through four, whereas ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.