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Simeri v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

October 15, 2018

TRACY SIMERI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO, JUDGE

         Tracy Simeri filed this action seeking review of the denial of her claim for disability benefits. She argues that she is disabled due to fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety, among other conditions, and that the Commissioner's decision to the contrary was unsupported. For the following reasons, the Court remands this action to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Tracy Simeri suffers from fibromyalgia, which causes her to experience tenderness and pain throughout her body. She has also been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. She applied for social security disability benefits, claiming that these conditions left her unable to work. After holding a hearing, an administrative law judge concluded that Ms. Simeri did have severe impairments. The ALJ also found that Ms. Simeri had “moderate difficulties” with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace, but that she did not satisfy a listing. The ALJ thus formulated Ms. Simeri's residual functional capacity, finding that she could perform light work as long as she could alternate sitting, standing, and walking, and that she was limited to performing simple, routine tasks, among other limitations. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that Ms. Simeri would be unable to perform her past work, but that she could perform other jobs that exist in substantial numbers, including working as a route clerk or an usher or greeter. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Simeri was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review, so Ms. Simeri filed this action seeking a reversal of that decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could differ” about the disability status of the claimant, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         It is the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400. In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court considers the entire administrative record but does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of evidence that is contrary to his or her findings. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. While the ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).

         III. STANDARD FOR DISABILITY

         Disability benefits are available only to those individuals who can establish disability under the terms of the Social Security Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998). Specifically, the claimant must be 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation process to be used in determining whether the claimant has established a disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the following order:

1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one listed in the regulations;
4. Whether the claimant can still perform relevant past work; and
5. Whether the claimant can perform other work in the ...

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