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Floriana v. Berryhill

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

September 4, 2018

ROBERTA A. FLORIANA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHIEF JUDGE THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff Roberta A. Floriana seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her applications for disability and disability insurance benefits as well as supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her applications and erred by performing only a perfunctory analysis regarding whether the Plaintiff's impairments met or medically equaled any of the Medical Listings at step three and by failing to give good reasons for discounting the opinions of the Plaintiff's treating and examining sources.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 14, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on July 31, 2014. (R. at 18.) Her claims were denied initially on February 3, 2015, and upon reconsideration on April 7, 2015. (Id.) On May 6, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Micha A. Daoud, a vocational expert (VE), also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On April 18, 2017, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's applications, finding she was not disabled from her alleged onset date. (R. 18-33.) On July 16, 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. 1-3.)

         On September 6, 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. 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 been unable to engage in SGA since her alleged disability onset date, July 31, 2014. (R. 20.)

         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), 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including longstanding degenerative joint diseases (DJD) of the knees, status-post left knee partial meniscectomy and arthroplasty in 2009 and January 5, 2015; minimal degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the lumbar spine; generalized osteoarthritis in multiple joints; fibromyalgia; obesity; and asthma. (R. 21.) 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 other medically determinable, but non-severe, impairments, including microvascular disease, headaches, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, status-post August 2013 right carpal tunnel (CTS) release, bilateral CTS/osteoarthritic changes in the bilateral hands without significant corroborating hand dysfunction, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), hypothyroidism, resection of upper lip without evidence of recurrence, erosive esophagitis, possible diabetes, mild degenerative changes of the left foot, longstanding right foot accessory navicular and neuropathy. (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of depressive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) did not cause more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform basic mental work activities and were non-severe. (R. 22.)

         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 . . . .” §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 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.” §§ 404.1520(d), 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, ” §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 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.” §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v); 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. (R. 24-25.) In so doing, the ALJ considered Medical Listing 1.00B2b, 1.00B2c, 3.02, and 3.03B. (R. 25.) The ALJ then found that the Plaintiff had an RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except:

Additional limitations include only occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling and climbing ramps/stairs, but she can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant should also avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases and other similar respiratory irritants, and she should avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery.

(Id.)

         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 symptoms and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (R. 26.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects ...


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