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Boyanowski v. Berryhill

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

February 26, 2019

MARSHA K. BOYANOWSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Marsha K. Boyanowski seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security Disability benefits and that the ALJ erred: (1) by failing to incorporate the limiting effects related to urinary system problems, gastrointestinal problems, other severe and non-severe impairments, and the combination therefore, into the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC); and (2) by failing to award at least a period of disability and failing to provide a meaningful explanation that there had been no 12-month period in which the Plaintiff was unable to sustain fulltime work.

         BACKGROUND

         This case has a lengthy procedural history, involving multiple hearings and three District Court cases in the Northern District of Indiana. (R. 1031-1034.) On March 24, 2009, the Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) asserting that she was disabled. On July 19, 2010, an ALJ held a hearing, during which the Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date of disability to May 31, 2008. On November 19, 2010, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. The Plaintiff appealed on December 7, 2010 and the Appeals Counsel rendered an adverse decision on March 2, 2012. The Plaintiff filed a Complaint for District Court review, Boyanowski v. Astrue, 1:12-cv-139 (N.D. Ind. 2013). The District Court reversed and remanded the case on July 2, 2013. The Appeals Council directed that further proceedings be held consistent with the District Court order.

         On May 27, 2014, the ALJ entered an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council did not review the ALJ's decision within the allotted sixty days. The Plaintiff then filed a second Complaint for District Court review in Boyanowski v. Colvin, 1:14-cv-295 (N.D. Ind. 2014). The Plaintiff also filed another Complaint for District Court review related to the subsequent application that she filed. Boyanowski v. Colvin, 1:14-cv-404 (N.D. Ind. 2013). The District Court affirmed the decision of the Commissioner and the Plaintiff filed an appeal to the Seventh Court of Appeals. Boyanowski v. Colvin, 15-3691 (7th Cir. 2016).

         The parties reached a global settlement that encompassed cases 15-3691, 1:14-cv-295, and 1:14-cv-404. On September 28, 2016, the Appeals Council vacated the extant ALJ decisions of August 29, 2013 and May 27, 2014, directed the consolidation of the prior extant applications of March 19, 2009 and March 12, 2012, and instructed that the record be completed and that a new hearing be held.

         On January 26, 2017, the ALJ conducted a hearing and entered an unfavorable decision on April 20, 2017. On May 11, 2017, the ALJ revised that decision to include exhibits omitted in the April 20, 2017 decision. The May 11, 2017 decision became the final decision because the Appeals Council chose not to review the ALJ's decision within the allotted sixty days. The Plaintiff now challenges the ALJ's decision.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         Disability is defined as the “inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. The ALJ determined that the claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her amended alleged onset date of May 31, 2008 through her date last insured of March 31, 2012. (R. 1036.)

         The ALJ also discussed the four rules pursuant to 20 CFR § 404.130 to determine when the Plaintiff was insured for purposes of establishing a period of disability or becoming entitled to disability insurance benefits. (Id.) These four rules require that the Plaintiff must also be “fully insured” pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.132. (Id.) The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff last me the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on March 31, 2012 (Id.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). The ALJ found that the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, and diabetes mellitus. (Id. at 1036.) The ALJ stated that these impairments “had more than a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to work. They limited her physical capacities for lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling heavy items; reaching on a constant basis with her upper extremities; performing fine and gross manipulative tasks on more than a frequent basis; standing and walking for more than two hours during an eight-hour workday; and engaging in postural changes.” (Id.) These impairments also “limited her ability to work around certain hazards in the workplace environment.” (Id.)

         The ALJ acknowledged that the Plaintiff had three additional diagnoses that did not qualify as severe mental impairments prior to the date she last met the disability insured status requirements of the Social Security Act: (1) attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; (2) a medically determinable mental impairment of depression; and (3) generalized anxiety disorder (Id. at 1037.) The Plaintiff received a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in March 2010, which a primary care physician diagnosed. (Id. at 1037.) The ALJ noted that the evidence indicated that the Plaintiff's attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder came under control with medication therapy, there was no evidence that this condition produced symptoms that interfered more than minimally with the Plaintiff's ability to perform work related activity, and there was no persuasive evidence that it lasted as severe for more than twelve continuous months. (Id. at 1037.)

         Regarding the Plaintiff's depression, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not have a severe mental impairment prior to the date she last met the disability insured status requirements of the Social Security Act. (Id. at 1037-38.) The ALJ stated that the Plaintiff had no limitations in her abilities to engage in daily activities and maintain social functioning, mild limitations in her abilities to concentrate, persist, keep pace (CPP), and had not experienced an episode of decompensation. (Id.) Regarding the Plaintiff's generalized anxiety disorder, the ALJ acknowledged that the Plaintiff's primary care physician noted that she had a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder. (Id. at 1037.) The ALJ noted, however, that there are no complaints from the Plaintiff regarding her alleged general anxiety disorder in the record. (Id. at 1038.) The ALJ also stated that there were no complaints nor mental status exam findings regarding the Plaintiff's alleged anxiety or depression when the physician saw the Plaintiff in September 2011. (Id.) The ALJ said that the Plaintiff complained of worsening depression at her December 2011 appointment, but had no complaints regarding anxiety or depression in January 2012 ...


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