United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
L. PRYOR JUDGE
Plaintiff Leslie B. requests judicial review of the denial by
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) of her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the
Act”). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate
Judge recommends that the Commissioner's decision should
be REVERSED and REMANDED
for further proceedings.
January 30, 2013, the Plaintiff applied for Supplemental
Security Income benefits under Title II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, originally alleging an onset date of June 1,
2006, but later amending it to May 14, 2009. Her claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. The Plaintiff then
filed a written request for a hearing on June 7, 2013, which
10, 2014, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) B.
Lloyd Blair conducted a hearing. The Plaintiff appeared and
testified at this hearing, and a vocational expert
(“VE”) submitted answers to vocational
interrogatories. Thereafter, on October 28, 2014, the ALJ
held a supplemental hearing to cross examine the VE. On
December 5, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
denying Plaintiff benefits. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on July 13, 2015.
then sought judicial review of the ALJ's decision. After
seeking judicial review, Plaintiff and the Commissioner
submitted a joint motion to remand. The District Court
granted the parties' motion to remand and ordered the ALJ
to further evaluate Plaintiff's alleged symptoms, give
further consideration to Plaintiff's maximum residual
functional capacity, conduct further proceedings to determine
whether a drug addiction is a contributing factor material to
the finding of disability, and, if warranted, obtain evidence
from a vocational expert.
September 13, 2016, ALJ B. Lloyd Blair conducted another
hearing where the Plaintiff and a new VE testified. On
December 7, 2016, the ALJ issued another unfavorable
decision, which is the agency's final decision for the
purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 404.984(a),
(d). Plaintiff now seeks review of the Commissioner's
decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Standard of Review
prove disability, a claimant must show she is unable 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). To meet this definition, Plaintiff's
impairments must be of such severity that she is not able to
perform the work she previously engaged in and, if based on
her age, education, and work experience, she cannot engage in
any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(A). The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) has implemented these statutory standards
by, in part, prescribing a five-step sequential evaluation
process for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. The ALJ must consider whether:
(1) the claimant is presently [un]employed; (2) the claimant
has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3)
the claimant's impairment meets or equals any impairment
listed in the regulations as being so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity; (4) the claimant's residual
functional capacity leaves her unable to perform her past
relevant work; and (5) the claimant is unable to perform any
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345,
351-52 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). An
affirmative answer to each step leads either to the next step
or, at steps three and five, to a finding that the claimant
is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Briscoe, 425
F.3d at 352. A negative answer at any point, other than step
three, terminates the inquiry and leads to a determination
that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four.
Briscoe, 425 F.3d at 352. If the first four steps
are met, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
Id. The Commissioner must then establish that the
claimant-in light of her age, education, job experience and
residual functional capacity to work-is capable of performing
other work and that such work exists in the national economy.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
Court reviews the Commissioner's denial of benefits to
determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or
is the result of an error of law. Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). Evidence
is substantial when it is sufficient for a reasonable person
to conclude that the evidence supports the decision. Rice
v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 369 (7th Cir. 2004). The
standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary
support, but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence.
Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir.
2001). Thus, the issue before the Court is not whether
Plaintiff is disabled, but rather, whether the ALJ's
findings were supported by substantial evidence. Diaz v.
Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir. 1995).
substantial-evidence determination, the Court must consider
the entire administrative record but not “reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility,
or substitute our own judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d
863, 869 (7th Cir.2000). Nevertheless, the Court must conduct
a critical review of the evidence before affirming the
Commissioner's decision, and the decision cannot stand if
it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues, Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d
535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003); see also, Steele v.
Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
ALJ denies benefits, he must build an “accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, ”
Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872, articulating a minimal,
but legitimate, justification for his decision to accept or
reject specific evidence of a disability. Scheck v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004).
need not address every piece of evidence in his decision, but
he cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the
conclusions he made, and he must trace the path of his
reasoning and connect the evidence to his findings and
conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592
(7th Cir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d at 872.
Plaintiff was born on October 6, 1987 and was 28 years old at
the time of her second hearing in September 2016. [Dkt. 11-22
at 34 (R. 1156).] She completed high school through the tenth
grade and never received a GED (General Equivalency Diploma).
Id. The Plaintiff does not have a driver's
license, smokes a pack and a half to two packs of cigarettes
a day, and has a history of substance abuse. [Dkt. 11-22 at
34, 39-40 (R. 1156, 1161-62); Dkt. 11-2 at 71-74 (R. 70-73).]
She previously worked as a car detailer, fast food worker,
greeter, and house cleaner. [Dkt. 11-22 at 35-36 (R.
1157-58).] The Plaintiff alleges that her mental and physical
impairments prevent her from working full time. Id.
20, 2006, Adult & Child Mental Health Center referred the
Plaintiff to Richmond State Hospital because “she posed
a risk of violence against herself.” [Dkt. 11-9 at 2
(R. 352).] Upon admission, Plaintiff was irritable and
complained that she suffered from bi-polar disease, substance
abuse problems, and anger issues. [Id.] Reviewing
her medical history, Dr. Adrian Villarin discovered that the
Plaintiff was, at age nine, diagnosed with attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and at
age thirteen, she started using marijuana and eventually
crack cocaine. [Id.] Even though Dr. Villarin noted
that the Plaintiff had poor compliance with treatment, on
September 22, 2006, Plaintiff was discharged to the care of
her mother in an “improved” mental state.
[Id.] Dr. Villarin diagnosed the Plaintiff with
mixed bipolar disorder, polysubstance dependence, and ADHD.
March 2009, the Plaintiff was again hospitalized for an
“[u]nspecified episodic mood disorder.” [Dkt.
11-11 at 3 (R. 546).] She was admitted to Community North
Hospital on immediate detention after being arrested. [Dkt.
11-11 at 9 (R. 553).] The Plaintiff was diagnosed by Dr.
Thomas E. Kreider with severe benzodiazepine dependence,
borderline personality disorder, alcohol abuse, recurrent
severe major depression without psychosis, and a nicotine
dependence. Dr. Kreider also noted the Plaintiff's
history of cocaine dependence. [Dkt. 11-11 at 9 (R. 553).]
The Plaintiff was discharged after twelve days in the
hospital with the medical staff noting that she had made
“some improvement.” [Dkt. 11-11 at 9-11 (R.
August 2011, Plaintiff sought treatment at Lincoln Behavioral
Services in Redford, Michigan. [Dkt. 11-9 at 83-86 (R.
433-36).] There, she complained of angry and violent manic
episodes, substance abuse, anxiety, and a history of panic
attacks and suicidal ideations. [Id.] She was
diagnosed with bipolar disorder, type I, early partial
remission polysubstance abuse and a Global Assessment
Functioning (“GAF”) score of 47. [Id.] It
appears the Plaintiff discontinued services in December 2012.
March 29, 2013, Plaintiff visited Dr. Terrence A. Mills, a
state consultative psychological examiner, for a
psychological exam. [Dkt. 11-10 at 91 (R. 536).] Plaintiff
reported that she had a history of bipolar disorder, ADHD,
oppositional defiant disorder, anger issues, and panic
disorder. [Id.] She indicated that she had been
prescribed several medications for her ADHD in the past, but
none of them had worked. [Id.] She also stated that
she could not concentrate without her medication and lost her
previous jobs because of her difficulty concentrating. [Dkt.
11-10 at 92 (R. 537).] At the time of this examination, she
was not taking any medication because she was pregnant. [Dkt.
11-10 at 91 (R. 536).]
Mills opined that Plaintiff suffered from mood swings, sleep
deprivation, anger issues, ADHD, panic attacks and a poor
ability to concentrate. [Dkt. 11-10 at 93 (R. 538).] He
further opined that it did not appear that the Plaintiff
could do work related activities. [Id.] Ultimately,
Dr. Mills diagnosed her with mixed bipolar disorder, ...