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Gingerich-Goshorn v. Berryhill

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

August 23, 2018

MELANIE ANN GINGERICH-GOSHORN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Melanie Ann Gingerich-Goshorn seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her disability and disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security benefits and erred by failing to adequately consider her impairments in the aggregate in determining her limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, and by failing to support the step five analysis regarding the number of jobs in the economy that the Plaintiff can perform with substantial evidence.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 29, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning February 28, 2013. (R. 11.) Her claims were denied initially on December 3, 2014, and upon reconsideration on February 28, 2013. (Id.) On August 3, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Scott B. Silver, an impartial vocational expert (VE), also appeared. (Id.) On August 16, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-4.) On October 12, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         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). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in SGA since her alleged onset date, February 28, 2013, through her date last insured, June 30, 2015. (R. 11.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine; chronic pain disorder; COPD; depressive disorder with psychotic features; PTSD; ADHD; and generalized anxiety disorder. (R. 13.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work. (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff had multiple non-severe impairments, including a heart murmur, acid reflux and gastritis, hypertension, and headaches. (R. 14.) The ALJ also noted that the impairments of hiatal hernia, left carpal tunnel syndrome, and a history of kidney stones and urinary incontinence were not reflected in the record during the relevant time period. (Id.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things she can still do physically, despite her limitations-to determine whether she can perform “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ found that the Plaintiff had a mild restriction in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties with social functioning, and moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, and pace. (R. 15-16.) However, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that she had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except that:

[S]he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant should have avoided concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases and other similar respiratory irritants. The claimant was able to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions and tasks, make judgments on simple work-related decisions, and respond appropriately to occasional and superficial interactions with coworkers and supervisors. The claimant should have avoided work activity involving the public, she was able to respond appropriately to usual work situations, and she could deal with routine changes in a routine work setting[.]

(R. 16-17.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her alleged onset date. The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments “could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms.” (R. 18.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms “were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (Id.)

         The Plaintiff has past relevant work as a short order cook, which is light, semiskilled work. (R. 22.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff is unable to perform past relevant work. (Id.) Relying on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that “considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could have performed.” (R. 23.) Thus, the ALJ found that ...


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