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Handshoe v. Berryhill

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

August 24, 2018

ANGEL D. HANDSHOE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Angel D. Handshoe seeks review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental security income disability benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her social security disability benefits and erred by failing to account for the reasons for the Plaintiff's noncompliance with treatment, overemphasizing activities of daily living, and failing to account for the Plaintiff's temper problems in calculating the residual functioning capacity assessment.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 13, 2014, the Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning November 16, 2010. (R. 13.) The claim was denied initially on May 9, 2014, and upon reconsideration on September 4, 2014. (Id.) On March 9, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id.) A vocational expert (VE) testified, as did the Plaintiff's case facilitator and fiancé. (Id.) On April 12, 2016, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled as of January 13, 2014, the date her application was filed.[1] (R. 10-26.) On May 11, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 5.)

         On July 7, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim [ECF No. 1] 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In this case, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has been unable to engage in SGA since the application date, January 13, 2014. (R. 16.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, and headaches/migraines. (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff suffered from non-severe medically determinable impairments of human papilloma virus (HPV) and a back disorder. (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 [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 416.920(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.” § 416.920(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, ” § 416.920(A)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 416.920(a)(4)(v). The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1.

         The ALJ further determined that the Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations:

[S]he is limited to moderate (office) levels of noise and light (i.e., no bright light or outdoor light exposure), and she should avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery. In addition, the claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and tasks; she can make decisions on simple work related decisions; she can respond appropriately to occasional interactions with coworkers and supervisors; she should avoid all work activity involving the general public; she can respond appropriately to usual work situations; and she can deal with routine changes in a routine work setting.

(R. 19.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her application date. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed section. The ALJ then assessed the Plaintiff's RFC by evaluating the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective symptoms. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (R. 20.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of ...


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