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Terri R. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

September 18, 2018

TERRI R., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, [2] Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         Plaintiff Terri R. requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the Social Security Administration (“Deputy Commissioner”), denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The Court rules as follows.


         The Plaintiff protectively filed her applications for DIB and SSI on August 4, 2014, alleging an onset of disability on April 1, 2010. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) initially denied the Plaintiff's applications on October 31, 2014. After she timely requested reconsideration, SSA again denied her claims on January 2, 2015. Thereafter, the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). An ALJ held a hearing on August 3, 2016, at which the Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The ALJ issued his decision denying the Plaintiff's applications on October 11, 2016. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review on August 1, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review on October 5, 2017.


         The relevant evidence of record is amply set forth in the parties' briefs and need not be repeated here. Specific facts relevant to the Court's disposition of this case are discussed below.


         Disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).[3] In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Deputy Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity she is not disabled, despite her medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).

         At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Deputy Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve-month durational requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

         In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” he must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and [his] conclusion that a claimant is not disabled.” Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). “If a decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, a remand is required.” Id. (citation omitted).


         The ALJ found at step one that the Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since the alleged onset date “during the following periods: May 2013-August 2013; January 2014-March 2014; May 2014-August 2014; and 2015 until July 2016.” R. at 22 (citations omitted). However, based on a finding that the Plaintiff had not engaged in SGA during a continuous period of twelve months following the alleged onset date, the ALJ continued the sequential evaluation process to assess disability during the entire period at issue. At step two, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the severe impairments of lumbar disc disease, bilateral knee impairments, carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, depression, and anxiety. The ALJ found at step three that the impairments, or combination of impairments, did not meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. The ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant could balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl occasionally. The claimant could climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps and stairs only occasionally. The claimant could frequently but not constantly handle, finger and feel bilaterally. The claimant must be allowed to sit after thirty minutes of being on her feet for five minutes during which she could continue to work and by so alternating could work throughout the day. The claimant is restricted to performing simple, routine, unskilled tasks away from the public and could tolerate only occasional interaction with the public.

R. at 26. The ALJ concluded at step four that the Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a small products assembler. However, the ALJ alternatively found at step five, based on VE testimony considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, including as an injection mold machine ...

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