United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
COLLINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Amanda Catherine Toth 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 REVERSED, and the case
will be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings
in accordance with this Opinion and Order.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
applied for DIB in May 2014, alleging disability as of
September 25, 2009. (DE 10 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 153-60). The Commissioner denied
Toth's application initially and upon reconsideration.
(AR 91-98). After a timely request, a hearing was held on
March 22, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge William D.
Pierson (the “ALJ”), at which Toth, who was
represented by counsel; Toth's mother; and a vocational
expert testified. (AR 28-68). On September 15, 2016, the ALJ
rendered an unfavorable decision to Toth, concluding that she
was not disabled because despite the limitations caused by
her impairments, she could perform a significant number of
jobs in the economy. (AR 10-21). Toth's request for
review was denied by the Appeals Council (AR 1-6), 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 December 22, 2017,
seeking relief from the Commissioner's decision. (DE 1).
In the appeal, Toth alleges that the ALJ: (1) improperly
evaluated whether she met listing 12.05C, intellectual
disability; and (2) failed to incorporate the ALJ's
finding of moderate deficits in maintaining concentration,
persistence, or pace into the hypothetical posed to the
vocational expert at step five. (DE 18 at 11-22).
time of the ALJ's decision, Toth was 26 years old (AR 21,
154) and had a certificate of completion from high school,
which involved special education classes (AR 200). She was
working part time as a pet bather at a pet salon five to six
days a week, and had been performing this work since 2009.
(AR 239, 267, 270). Toth alleges disability due to:
intellectual disability, mild; depressive disorder; general
anxiety disorder; bipolar disorder; and Coffin-Lowry
Syndrome. (DE 18 at 2).
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 or
combination of impairments 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).
The Commissioner's Final Decision
September 15, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision that ultimately
became the Commissioner's final decision. (AR 10-21). At
step one, the ALJ concluded that Toth had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity after her alleged onset date of
September 25, 2009. (AR 12). At step two, the ALJ found that
Toth's borderline intellectual functioning arising from
Coffin-Lowery Syndrome was a severe impairment. (AR 12). At
step three, the ALJ concluded that Toth did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to
meet or equal a listing. (AR 12-14).
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Toth's
symptom testimony was not entirely consistent with the
medical evidence and other evidence of record. (AR 15). The
ALJ then assigned Toth the following RFC:
[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work
at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: the claimant [is limited] to only occasional
decision making and only occasional changes in the work
setting. The claimant can tolerate predictable changes in the
work environment that allows her to sustain a flexible and
goal oriented pace. The claimant is limited from fast-paced
work such as assembly line production work with rigid or
strict productivity requirements. The claimant is limited to
work that involves only simple, routine and repetitive tasks
that could be learned through short demonstration and up to
thirty days. The claimant can maintain the concentration
required to perform simple tasks. The claimant can remember
simple work like procedures. The claimant can make simple
work-related decisions. The claimant can read at . . . least
the fourth grade level. She can read lists and address
labels, but is not to perform work requiring extensive manual
(AR 14). Based on the assigned RFC and the vocational
expert's testimony, the ALJ found at step four that Toth
was unable to perform her past relevant work, commenting that
this finding was “generous in nature” since she
was still performing such work. (AR 20). At step five, the
ALJ found that Toth could perform a significant number of
other jobs in the economy, including cleaner/housekeeper ...