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Vickie H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 1, 2019

VICKIE H.[1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner[2], Social Security Administration, Defendant.


         Plaintiff Vickie H. requests judicial review of the denial by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) of her application for Social Security Disability Insurance (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d), 405(g). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that this Court REVERSE the ALJ's decision denying the Plaintiff benefits and REMAND this matter for further consideration.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural History

         On June 12, 2014, Vickie W. filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Act, alleging her disability began on June 3, 2014. The claim was denied initially on September 11, 2014, and upon reconsideration on October 1, 2014. The Plaintiff then filed a written request for a hearing on October 17, 2014, which was granted.

         On September 9, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Steven Collins conducted the hearing, where Vickie and a vocational expert testified. On December 27, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. The Appeals Council denied Vickie's request for review of this decision on August 31, 2017, making the ALJ's decision final. The Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         B. Factual Background

         Vickie was born on February 18, 1955, and was 59 years old at the time of the alleged onset date in 2014. [Dkt. 16-3 at 2 (R. 83).] She completed the eleventh grade of high school [Dkt. 16-6 at 16 (R. 208).]. She has past relevant work history as a classroom aide, cafeteria cook, and office helper. [Dkt. 16-2 at 74-75 (R. 73-74).]

         C. The Hearing

         Vickie testified at the administrative hearing on September 9, 2016 that she had past relevant work history as a classroom aide for Parksville Middle School from 1999 to 2003, wherein she worked 8.5 hour days in a special needs classroom. [Dkt. 16-2 at 53-54 (R. 52-53).] That particular job was performed as heavy work, but is classified as light work in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). [Dkt. 16-2 at 74 (R. 73).] Vickie next worked as a cafeteria cook for Floyd County Schools from August 2003 to January 2014. [Dkt. 16-2 at 48 (R. 47).] The cafeteria work is classified as medium work in the DOT and she performed it as medium work. [Dkt. 16-2 at 74-75 (R. 73-74).] Vickie noted that she had to stand for approximately 6 hours of the 6.5 hour work day as a cafeteria cook. [Dkt. 16-2 at 49 (R. 48).] She further testified that she fell at work in January 2014, which resulting in her receiving Worker's Compensation benefits for a short time. [Dkt. 16-2 at 46-47 (R. 45-46); Dkt. 16-2 at 26 (R. 25).] In March 2014, Vickie was transferred to a different position at a different school, where she did paperwork and copying for the main office but would be sent into the classrooms to assist teachers after she had completed her busywork. [Dkt. 16-2 at 51 (R. 50).] The vocational expert, Sharon Lane, testified that this most recent job that started in March 2014 was a “combination” of an office helper and a teacher's aide. [Dkt. 16-2 at 74 (R. 73).]

         II. Standard of Review

         To 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). To meet this definition, a claimant's impairments must be of such severity that she is not able to perform the work she previously engaged in and, 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 (“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. The ALJ must consider whether:

(1) the claimant is presently [un]employed; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) the claimant's impairment meets or equals any impairment listed in the regulations as being so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity; (4) the claimant's residual functional capacity leaves [her] unable to perform [her] past relevant work; and (5) the claimant is unable to perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.

Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351-52 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). An affirmative answer to each step leads either to the next step or, at steps three and five, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Briscoe, 425 F.3d at 352. A negative answer at any point, other than step three, terminates the inquiry and leads to a determination that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four. Briscoe, 425 F.3d at 352. If the first four steps are met, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Id. The Commissioner must then establish that the claimant-in light of her age, education, job experience and residual functional capacity to work-is capable of performing other work and that such work exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         The Court reviews the Commissioner's denial of benefits to determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or is the result of an error of law. Dixon v. Massanari,270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). Evidence is substantial when it is sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that the evidence supports the decision. Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 369 (7th Cir. 2004). The standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson,246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001). Thus, the issue before the Court is not ...

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