United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
SUSAN A. SMITH, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF Social Security, sued as Nancy A. Berryhill,Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge
Susan A. Smith 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 REVERSED, and the case
will be REMANDED for further proceedings in accordance with
this Opinion and Order.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
applied for DIB in September 2012, alleging disability as of
March 1, 2007. (DE 10 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 322-36). Smith was last insured for DIB on
March 31, 2014 (AR 337), and therefore, she must establish
that she was disabled as of that date. See Stevenson v.
Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1154 (7th Cir. 1997) (explaining
that a claimant must establish that she was disabled as of
her date last insured in order to recover DIB).
Commissioner denied Smith’s application initially and
upon reconsideration. (AR 143-67). After a timely request, a
hearing was held on May 11, 2015, before Administrative Law
Judge Yvonne K. Stam (the “ALJ”), at which Smith,
who was represented by counsel; Smith’s husband; and a
vocational expert testified. (AR 35-94). On August 24, 2015,
the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Smith, 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 15-29). Smith’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.
filed a complaint with this Court on January 17, 2017,
seeking relief from the Commissioner’s decision. (DE
1). In the appeal, Smith alleges that the ALJ erred in: (1)
failing to account for her moderate difficulties in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace when
assigning the mental residual functional capacity
(“RFC”); (2) assigning little weight to her
treating neurologist’s opinion; (3) failing to account
for her headaches, certain other physical problems, and the
combination of her impairments when assigning the RFC; and
(4) discounting the credibility of her symptom testimony. (DE
16 at 10-26).
time of the ALJ’s decision, Smith was 35 years old (AR
29, 322), had a high school education (AR 390), and had work
experience as a cashier, a manager of a fast food restaurant,
a sales associate, and a shipping and receiving clerk (AR
390, 470). Smith alleges disability due to diabetes, morbid
obesity, hypertension, asthma, major depression, lumbar facet
arthropathy, and migraine headaches. (AR 40, 389).
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 ...