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Warren v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

February 19, 2019

ELAINE WARREN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM C. LEE, JUDGE

         This matter is before the court for judicial review of a final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), as provided for in the Social Security Act. Section 205(g) of the Act provides, inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer, the [Commissioner] shall file a certified copy of the transcript of the record including the evidence upon which the findings and decision complained of are based. The court shall have 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 case for a rehearing." It also provides, "[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         The law provides that an applicant for DIB must establish 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 no less than 12 months. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. §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. §423(d)(3). It is not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an impairment exists. It must be shown that the impairment is severe enough to preclude the plaintiff from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Gotshaw v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840 (7th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 945 (1963); Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp. 1098 (N.D.Ill. 1979). It is well established that the burden of proving entitlement to disability insurance benefits is on the plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d 36 (7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v. Cohen, 425 F.2d 20 (7th Cir. 1970).

         Given the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this court] is whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] findings." Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial evidence is defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984) quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v. Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed, 42 U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of law." Garfield, supra at 607; see also Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).

         In the present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2014 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: chronic low back pain due to lumbar spondylosis/lumbar radiculitis, status post history of discectomy surgery in 1999 and most recently fusion surgery in 2013, as well as subsequent spinal cord stimulator placement in March 2015 (Exhibits 1F, 2F, 3F, 5F, 9F, 10F, 11F, 13F, 14F and 15F); emphysema/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Exhibits 4F and 7F); and, obesity (Exhibit 12F)(20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the physical residual functional capacity to perform “light” work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) (i.e. lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently sitting at least up to six hours if not more in an eight hour workday; and, standing/walking, in combination, at least up to six hours if not more in an eight hour workday), except the claimant has the additional limitations as follows: she needs a sit/stand option (which allows for alternating between sitting and standing up to every 30 minutes, if needed, but positional change will not render the individual off task); only occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; needs to avoid concentrated exposure to humidity, wetness, vibration, pulmonary irritants (i.e. fumes, odors, dust, gases, poorly ventilated areas and chemicals); and hazards (i.e. operational control of dangerous moving machinery, unprotected heights, slippery/uneven/ moving surfaces).
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on June 12, 1969 and was 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job ...

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