United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL
McVicker Lynch, 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. As
addressed below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the
District Judge REVERSE and REMAND the decision of the Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that plaintiff Tabbatha T. is
Tabbatha T. applied in September 2014 for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
alleging she has been disabled since July 22, 2014. Acting
for the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
following a hearing by video on November 2, 2016,
administrative law judge Peter Jamison issued a decision on
November 29, 2016, that Tabbatha is not disabled. The Appeals
Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on December
7, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision for the
Commissioner final. Tabbatha timely filed this civil action
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the
contends that the Commissioner's decision should be
reversed and remanded because of two alleged errors: (1) the
ALJ did not give proper weight to the opinion of her treating
physician and (2) the ALJ ignored testimony by the vocational
expert that a limitation would eliminate all jobs. As
addressed below, the court finds that the argument regarding
the vocational expert is based on a misreading of the
transcript and is therefore rejected. The court finds too,
however, that the ALJ's evaluation of the treating
physician's opinion does not withstand scrutiny under the
court's standard of review.
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court's standard of review and
then address Tabbatha's specific assertions of error.
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. §
423(d)(1)(A). Tabbatha 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. § 423(d)(2)(A). The
Social Security Administration 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 equal the criteria of any of the
conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes
medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has
predetermined 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 a listed
impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and
qualifies for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
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 her
vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and
RFC; if so, then she is not disabled.
claimant 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 vocational profile 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. A court must affirm if no error of
law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7thCir. 2001). Substantial evidence means
evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more
than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but it does not
demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v.
Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir.
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, and he must trace the path of his
reasoning and connect the evidence to his findings and