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Higgins v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 12, 2018

LORI ANN HIGGINS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. MARTIN MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Lori A. Higgins on April 21, 2017, and Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 13], filed by Plaintiff on November 22, 2017. Plaintiff requests that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge be reversed and remanded for benefits or further proceedings. On December 22, 2017, the Commissioner filed a response, and on January 18, 2018, Plaintiff filed a reply.

         I. Procedural Background

         On November 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for benefits alleging that she became disabled on January 1, 2002. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On March 17, 2015, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Romona Scales held a hearing at which Plaintiff, without an attorney representative, testified. On November 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         The ALJ made the following findings under the required five-step analysis:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2007.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1, 2002 through her date last insured of December 31, 2007.
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following medically determinable impairments: fibromyalgia, headaches, obesity, and depression.
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited the ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore, the claimant did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments.
5. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from January 1, 2002, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2007, the date last insured.

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review and denied her request to reopen the decision, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final decision of the agency and indicates that the Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of ‚Äúsuch relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as ...


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