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.

Martz-Hamilton v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

August 23, 2018

LINNEA MARTZ-HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Linnea Martz-Hamilton 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”).[1] (DE 1). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Martz-Hamilton applied for DIB in May 2013, alleging disability as of May 31, 2005. (DE 12 Administrative Record (“AR”) 123-29). Martz-Hamilton was last insured for DIB on March 31, 2010 (AR 139), 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 benefits).

         The Commissioner denied Martz-Hamilton's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 63-66, 70-76). After a timely request, a hearing was held on December 10, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge Steven J. Neary (the “ALJ”), at which Martz-Hamilton, who was represented by counsel; Martz-Hamilton's husband; and Sharon Ringenberg, a vocational expert (the “VE”), testified. (AR 30-50). On February 13, 2015, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Martz-Hamilton, concluding that she was not disabled because despite the limitations caused by her impairments, she could perform her past relevant work as a nail technician, as well as a significant number of unskilled, sedentary jobs in the economy. (AR 19-26). Martz-Hamilton requested a review by the Appeals Council and submitted additional evidence therewith, but her request was denied by the Appeals Council (AR 1-5), at which point the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981.

         Martz-Hamilton filed a complaint with this Court on August 31, 2016, seeking relief from the Commissioner's decision. (DE 1). In the appeal, Martz-Hamilton alleges that: (1) the ALJ erred by failing to follow Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 83-20 for determining the onset date of her purported disabling impairments; (2) the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assigned by the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the Appeals Council erroneously concluded that the evidence she submitted with her appeal was not “new and material.” (DE 12 at 6-15).

         As of her date last insured, Martz-Hamilton was 48 years old (AR 139), had a high school education and specialized job training as a cosmetologist and nail technician (AR 144), and had work experience as a babysitter and nail technician (AR 144, 192). In her DIB application, Martz-Hamilton alleged disability due to: congenital hypophosphatemic rickets, gastroesophageal reflux disease, “white coat hypertension, ” “possible fibromyalgia, ” menopause, arthritis in legs and back, and depression. (AR 143).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Section 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 omitted).

         To 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Law

         Under 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. § 423(d)(3).

         The 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 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.[2] 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 inquiry and leads to a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Id. (citation omitted). The burden of proof lies with the claimant at every step except the fifth, where it shifts to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868 (citation omitted).

         B. The Commissioner's Final Decision

         On February 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision that ultimately became the Commissioner's final decision. (AR 19-26). At step one, the ALJ concluded that Martz- Hamilton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after her alleged onset date, May 31, 2005, through her date last insured, March 31, 2010. (AR 21). At step two, the ALJ found that Martz-Hamilton's congenital rickets was a severe impairment through her date last insured. (AR 22). At step three, the ALJ concluded that Martz-Hamilton did not have an impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to meet or equal a listing. (AR 22).

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Martz-Hamilton's symptom testimony was “not entirely credible” (AR 24) and then assigned her an RFC to perform the full range of sedentary work through her date last insured. (AR 22). Based on this assigned RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found at step four that as of her date last insured Martz-Hamilton was able to perform her past relevant work as a nail technician, both it was generally performed and as she actually performed it. (AR 25). Additionally, at step five the ALJ found that Martz-Hamilton could perform a significant number of unskilled, sedentary jobs in the economy, including a charge account clerk, a phone order clerk, and an addresser. (AR 26). Therefore, Martz-Hamilton's application for DIB was denied. (AR 26).

         C. SSR 83-20

         Martz-Hamilton first argues that the ALJ said that she was disabled at least as early as her hearing, and consequently, that the ALJ erred by failing to follow SSR 83-20 to determine the onset date of her disability. (DE 12 at 6). Martz-Hamilton's first argument, however, mischaracterizes the record.

         Martz-Hamilton's argument rests entirely upon a preliminary comment made by the ALJ at the outset of the hearing when describing the nature of the hearing to Martz-Hamilton. The ALJ explained to Martz-Hamilton that because she was applying for DIB and was last insured for DIB in March 2010, in order to find her disabled he would have to find her disabled as of March 2010 ...


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.