United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON APPROPRIATE DISPOSITION
OF THE ACTION
Matthew P. Brookman United States Magistrate Judge
matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) for a Report and
Recommendation as to its appropriate disposition. (Docket
No.8). Plaintiff Dianna H. seeks judicial review of the
Social Security Administration's final decision deeming
her ineligible for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). The matter is fully briefed. (Docket
No. 15, Docket No. 21, Docket No. 24).
It is recommended that the District Judge
REMAND the decision of the Deputy
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration finding
that Plaintiff Dianna H. is not disabled, pursuant to
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further
consideration, consistent with this opinion.
Diana H., protectively filed her applications for Title II
and Title XVI on November 12, 2014, and November 25, 2014,
for disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning February 23, 2012. (Docket No. 6-6
at ECF pp. 223-229; 230-236). Her claims were initially
denied on February 2, 2015 (Docket No. 6-4 at ECF p.
118-126; 127-135), and upon reconsideration on May 7,
2015. (Docket No. 6-4 at ECF pp. 138-144; 145-151).
Administrative Law Judge Belinda Brown (the
“ALJ”) held a hearing on February 8, 2017, at
which Dianna H., represented by counsel, and a vocational
expert (“VE”), Stephanie R. Archer, appeared and
testified. (Docket No. 6-2 at ECF pp. 45-68). On
February 27, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.
(Docket No. 6-2 at ECF pp. 13-28) The Appeals
Council denied review on November 14, 2017. (Docket No.
6-2 at ECF pp. 1-7). On January 18, 2018, Dianna H.
timely filed this civil action, asking the Court pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the
Deputy Commissioner denying her benefits.
for Proving Disability
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. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). Plaintiff is disabled if her impairments are
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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). 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.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if she is, then she is not disabled. Step
two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe. If they are not, then she is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether
the claimant's impairments, either singly or in
combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of
the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”). The
Listing of Impairments includes medical conditions defined by
criteria that the SSA has pre-determined are disabling, so
that if a claimant meets all of the criteria for a listed
impairment or presents medical findings equal in severity to
the criteria for the most similar listed impairment, then the
claimant is presumptively disabled and qualifies for
benefits. Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then her
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite her
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the
RFC to perform her past relevant work, then she is not
disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the
relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his
vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and
her RFC. If so, then she is not disabled.
individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then
the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform, given her age, education, work
experience, and functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995,
1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. This Court must affirm the ALJ's
decision unless it lacks the support of substantial evidence
or rests upon a legal error. See, e.g., Nelms v.
Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009); 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Substantial evidence means evidence that a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ- not the Court-holds discretion to
weigh evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent
factual findings, and decide questions of credibility.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399-400 (1971).
Accordingly, the Court may not re-evaluate facts, reweigh
evidence, or substitute its judgment for the ALJ's.
See Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055
(7th Cir. 1999).
is required to articulate 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). The ALJ need not address every
piece of evidence in his decision, but he cannot ignore a
line of evidence that undermines the conclusions he made. The
ALJ 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 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
The ALJ's ...