United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge
Leisha Ann Slone appeals to the district court from a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application under
the Social Security Act (the “Act”) for
disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). (DE 1). For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
applied for DIB in October 2014, alleging disability as of
September 15, 2013. (DE 12 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 12, 153-54). Slone was last insured for
DIB on December 31, 2013 (AR 12, 72), and therefore, she must
establish that she was disabled as of that date. See
Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1154 (7th Cir. 1997)
(explaining that a claimant must establish that she was
disabled as of her date last insured in order to recover DIB
Commissioner denied Slone's application initially and
upon reconsideration. (AR 82-98). After a timely request, a
hearing was held on August 19, 2016, before Administrative
Law Judge Terry Miller (the “ALJ”), at which
Slone, who was represented by counsel, and Amy Kushpa, a
vocational expert (the “VE”), testified. (AR
30-66, 99-100). On December 21, 2016, the ALJ rendered an
unfavorable decision to Slone, concluding that she was not
disabled because despite the limitations caused by her
impairments, she could perform a significant number of
unskilled, light exertional jobs in the economy. (AR 12-25).
Slone's request for review was denied by the Appeals
Council (AR 1-11), at which point the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.981.
filed a complaint with this Court on October 30, 2017,
seeking relief from the Commissioner's decision. (DE 1).
In the appeal, Slone alleges that the ALJ erred at step five
by relying on the VE's testimony without properly
addressing Slone's objections and rebuttal evidence. (DE
16 at 4-16).
her date last insured, Slone was 53 years old (AR 153), had a
ninth grade education (AR 179), and had work experience as a
cashier, a cook, and at a deli counter (AR 179). In her DIB
application, Slone alleges disability due to: rheumatoid
arthritis, anxiety, mitral valve prolapse, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression. (AR 178).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of the Act grants this Court “the power to
enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court's
task is limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence, which means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir.
2005) (citation omitted). The decision will be reversed only
if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ
applied an erroneous legal standard. Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000) (citation
determine if substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews
the entire administrative record but does not reweigh the
evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility,
or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's.
Id. Rather, if the findings of the Commissioner are
supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive.
Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003)
(citation omitted). “In other words, so long as, in
light of all the evidence, reasonable minds could differ
concerning whether [the claimant] is disabled, we must affirm
the ALJ's decision denying benefits.” Books v.
Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 1996).
the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB if she establishes an
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to . . . last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1), 423(d)(1)(A). A physical or
mental impairment is “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
Commissioner evaluates disability claims pursuant to a
five-step evaluation process, requiring consideration of the
following issues, in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is
currently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets
or equals one of the impairments listed by the Commissioner,
see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1; (4)
whether the claimant is unable to perform her past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is incapable of performing work in
the national economy. See Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d
1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520. An affirmative answer leads either to the
next step or, on steps three and five, to a finding that the
claimant is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). A negative
answer at any point other than step three stops the inquiry
and leads to a finding that the claimant is not disabled.
Id. (citation omitted). The burden of proof
lies with the claimant at every step except the fifth, where
it shifts to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at
868 (citation omitted).