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Amber S. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

October 23, 2018

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


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Senior Judge

         Plaintiff Amber S. 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 application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Court rules as follows.


         The Plaintiff protectively filed her application for DIB on February 19, 2014, alleging an onset of disability on August 19, 2013. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) initially denied the Plaintiff's application on May 16, 2014. After she timely requested reconsideration, SSA again denied her claim on September 8, 2014. Thereafter, the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). An ALJ held a hearing on May 23, 2016, at which the Plaintiff, two medical experts, John A. Pella, M.D., and Don A. Olive, Ph.D., as well as a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The ALJ issued his decision denying the Plaintiff's application on September 27, 2016. After the Appeals Council denied her request for review on September 5, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review on October 30, 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). 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 not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had “the following severe impairments: migraines associated with dizziness, residuals from a knee replacement, obesity, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia.” R. at 16 (citations omitted). 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 sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). The claimant is restricted to performing simple, repetitive tasks or unskilled work. The claimant could not perform fast-paced or production work.

R. at 19. The ALJ concluded at step four that the Plaintiff was incapable of performing her past relevant work as a customer service representative, marketing director, and sales representative.

         At step five, the ALJ found, based on VE testimony considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could have performed through the date of the decision, including as a telephone quotation clerk, document preparer, and charge account clerk. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled.

         V. ...

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