United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville 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.12). Plaintiff Anna B. 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. 11, Docket No. 16, Docket No.17). It is
recommended that the District Judge REMAND
the decision of the Deputy Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration finding that Plaintiff is not
disabled, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) for further consideration, consistent with this
Anna B., protectively filed her applications for Title II and
Title XVI on March 7, 2014, and December 4, 2014, for
disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning December 16, 2013. (Docket No. 7-5 at
ECF p. 2; Docket No. 7-5 at ECF p. 7).
claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Docket
No. 7-4 at ECF p. 4; Docket No. 7-4 at ECF p. 14).
Administrative Law Judge Stuart T. Janney (ALJ) held a
hearing on September 29, 2016, at which Anna B., represented
by counsel, and a vocational expert (VE) Leslie F. Lloyd,
appeared and testified. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF pp. 39-62).
After the hearing, on October 4, 2016, the ALJ sent
interrogatories to the VE, which were then proffered to
Plaintiff's counsel on October 26, 2016. Counsel
submitted additional questions to the VE, the response of
which were entered on December 7, 2016. (Docket No. 7-2 at
ECF p. 11). On February 24, 2017, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p. 8). The
Appeals Council denied review on November 21, 2017. (Docket
No. 7-2 at ECF p. 2). On December 22, 2017, Anna B. 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 Cir. 2002).
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 Sequential Findings
was 49 years of age at the time she applied for DIB and SSI
alleging she could no longer work. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p.
21). However, the claimant subsequently changed age category
to closely approaching advanced age (20 C.F.R. §
404.1563, 20 C.F.R. § 416.963) prior to the ALJ's
decision's issuance. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p. 22).
meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2019 (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p. 13)
and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
December 16, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Docket No. 7-2 at
ECF p. 13).
followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the
SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) and
416.920(a) and ultimately concluded that Anna B. was
not disabled. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p. 23). The ALJ found
that Anna B. met the insured status requirement through
December 31, 2019. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p. 1). At step one,
the ALJ found that Anna B. had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity. Id. At step two, the ALJ found
that she had the following severe impairments:
“degenerative disc disease; level one obesity; mood
disorder; major depressive disorder; generalized anxiety
disorder; and personality disorder; not otherwise
specified.” (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p. 14). At step
three, the ALJ found that she did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments. (Docket No. 7-2 at
ECF pp. 14-16). After step three, but before step four, the
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant can understand,
remember, and carry out rote or routine instructions or tasks
that require the exercise of little independent judgment or