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Haugli v. Berryhill

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

August 2, 2018

CHELSEA ELAINE HAUGLI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Chelsea Elaine Haugli on August 30, 2017, and a Social Security Opening Brief of Plaintiff [DE 17], filed on February 6, 2018. Plaintiff requests that the December 8, 2016 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying her claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On March 16, 2018, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on April 2, 2018. For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's request for remand.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 12, 2014, and July 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, respectively, alleging disability beginning May 11, 2014. The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing, and, on September 15, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Terry Miller (“ALJ”) held a hearing by video conference. In attendance at the hearing were Plaintiff, Plaintiff's mother, Plaintiff's attorney, and an impartial vocational expert. On December 8, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, making the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 11, 2014, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (Exhibits 17F, 24F, 25F, 31F, 39F); mild to moderate degenerative joint disease of the left knee (Exhibit 27F); history of iron deficiency anemia (Exhibits 15F, 18F, 25F, 39F); mild to moderate obesity (Exhibit 31F); Asperger's disorder/autism spectrum disorder (Exhibits 26F, 35F, 37F, 38F, 40F); borderline intellectual functioning to low average range IQ/learning disorder (Exhibits 20F; 26F; 35F; 40F).
4. 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.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform “light” work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) (i.e. lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sitting at least up to six out of eight hours in an eight hour workday; and standing/walking, in combination, at least six out of eight hours in an eight hour workday). However, the claimant would have additional work-related limitations as follows: Additional limitations include a need for an option to sit/stand, which allows for the following- The opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing up to every 30 minutes, if needed, without the positional change rendering the individual off task. The claimant is further limited to only occasional climbing of ramps/stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling, and never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Other physical limitations include[] only frequent bilateral handling and fingering with no forceful grasping/gripping of the hands, and the need to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat and humidity such that work should be in an indoor temperature controlled environment. Mentally, the claimant cannot have no[sic] sudden or unpredictable workplace changes in terms of use of work tools, work processes, or work settings, and if there are work place changes, introduction of these would should [sic] be gradual. In addition, the work activity cannot involve requirements to satisfy production quotas or involve assembly line pace work.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1988] and was 25 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date.
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is“not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. 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.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from May 11, 2014, through the date of this decision.

(AR 28-40).

         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, 416.1481. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) 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), 1382c(a)(3)(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), 1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(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), 416.920(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 ...


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