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Katherine B. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 8, 2018

KATHERINE B., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MARK J. DINSMORE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Katherine B. requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). See U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (2018). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Judge AFFIRM the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. Background

         Katherine B. filed an application for SSI on August 28, 2015, alleging an onset of disability on December 16, 2014. [Dkt. 7-2 at 11.] Katherine B. alleges disability due to chronic myeloid leukemia, cervicalgia, degenerative joint disease, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), anxiety, back pain, wrist pain, agoraphobia, head trauma, lumbosacral and cervical spondylosis, and chronic pain syndrome.[1] [Dkt. 9 at 2.] Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on July 27, 2016, and denied again on December 7, 2016, upon reconsideration. [Dkt. 7-2 at 11.] Plaintiff timely filed a written request for a hearing on February 6, 2017. [Dkt. 7-2 at 11.] The hearing was held on April 20, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge Jody Hilger Odell (“ALJ”). [Dkt. 7-2 at 11.] The ALJ issued a decision on June 13, 2017, again denying Plaintiff's application for SSI. [Dkt. 7-2 at 21.] On October 18, 2017 the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 1 at 1.] Katherine B. timely filed her Complaint with this Court on December 15, 2017, which Complaint is now before the Court. [SeeDkt. 1.]

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB or SSI, a claimant must have a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.[2] Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (2018).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner, as represented by the ALJ, employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities, she is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and she is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and cannot perform her past relevant work but she can perform certain other available work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (2018). Before proceeding from step three to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), identifying the claimant's functional limitations and assessing the claimant's remaining capacity for work-related activities. S.S.R. 96-8p.

         The ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ but may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). The ALJ “need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted.” Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 287 (7th Cir. 1985); Zblewski v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 75, 79 (7th Cir. 1984)). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” she must “provide some glimpse into [her] reasoning” and “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that Katherine B. has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 28, 2015, the application date. [Dkt. 7-2 at 14-15.] At step two, the ALJ determined that Katherine B. “has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; COPD; residual deformity of the left wrist; chronic myelogenous leukemia.” [Dkt. 7-2 at 14.] However, at step three, the ALJ found that Katherine B. “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments.” [Dkt. 7-2 at 15-16.]

         In making this determination, the ALJ considered Listing 1.02 for Plaintiff's wrist deformity but found that the medical evidence did not support all criteria for major dysfunction of a joint under that listing. [Dkt. 7-2 at 16.] The ALJ next considered Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease under Listing 1.04 but found that the medical evidence did not support all criteria for disorders of the spine under that listing. [Dkt. 7-2 at 16.] The ALJ then considered the Plaintiff's COPD under Listing 3.02 but found that the medical evidence did not support all criteria for chronic respiratory disorders; additionally, “there [was] no indication in the evidence of the record the claimant has sustained exacerbations requiring three hospitalizations within a 12-month period, and at least 30 days apart, lasting at least 48 hours as defined in subsection D.” [Dkt. 7-2 at 16.] Lastly, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's chronic myelogenous leukemia under Listing 13.06 but found Katherine B.'s condition had no indication of being “progressive” or in an “accelerated or blast phase, or chronic phase as described.” [Dkt. 7-2 at 16.] The ALJ found the Plaintiff had been “somewhat noncompliant with anticancer therapies” and was “responding to prescribed regimen without significant side effects.” [Dkt. 7-2 at 16.] Therefore, the ALJ concluded the criteria of Listing 13.06 for leukemia was not met. [Dkt. 7-2 at 16.]

         The ALJ next analyzed Katherine B.'s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). She concluded that Katherine B. has the RFC to perform light work except:

[S]he can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, no exposure to respiratory irritants such as concentrated fumes, odors, dusts, or gases; no exposure to unprotected heights or dangerous moving ...

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