United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
MELINDA S. COOK, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge
Melinda S. Cook seeks judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner's decision that, as of February 16, 2015,
she was no longer entitled to Title II disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”), and Title XVI supplemental
security income (“SSI”). This Court has
jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and may
enter a ruling in this matter based on the parties'
consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the
reasons below, the Court affirms the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
Overview of the Case
alleges that the depressive condition that initially entitled
her to disability benefits has not improved, and that she is
thus entitled to continue receiving disability benefits. [DE
37 at 7]. In a decision dated July 15, 2008, Cook was found
disabled as of August 16, 2004. Thus, initially, Cook was
deemed eligible for disability benefits based upon her severe
impairment of depression, which met or equaled Listings 12.04
and 12.08. [DE 27 at 9]; see also 20 C.F.R. 404,
Subpart P, App. 1.
after conducting a review of Cook's disability, as
authorized by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1589, the Commissioner
determined that Cook “was no longer disabled as
of” February 16, 2015. [DE 21 at 23]. Cook filed a
timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), who determined that the
claimant's disability had indeed ended on February 16,
2015, and that the claimant had not become disabled again
thereafter. [Id. at 33]. The ALJ reached this
conclusion because he found that Cook no longer had marked or
extreme limitations in her functioning under the relevant
paragraph B criteria, and thus her mental impairment no
longer met or equaled any Listing, including 12.02, 12.04, or
12.08. [Id. at 27]. In reaching this decision, the
ALJ also considered Cook's other severe impairments of
borderline intellectual functioning, obesity, degenerative
disc disease, and right elbow impairment. [Id. at
25-26]. While the ALJ found that Cook continued to have
severe impairments, the ALJ also found that Cook had the
residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work as defined in the regulations with some additional
specified limitations. [Id. at 28]. As a result, the ALJ
affirmed the Commissioner's decision finding Cook no
longer disabled. [Id. at 33].
Disability Cessation Standard
preliminary matter, the Commissioner's response brief
reflects an erroneous application of the five-step, initial
disability analysis outlined at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 to
Cook's case. In cases like Cook's, where the issue is
whether the disability continues, an eight-step analysis, as
outlined at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f), applies. Notably,
some steps in the eight-step disability review process are
identical to steps in the five-step initial disability
process, such as the Listing analysis and RFC determination.
Therefore, the Commissioner's relevant arguments in her
response brief can be considered here.
eight-step inquiry in evaluating whether disability benefits
continue is as follows:
(1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
If so, his or her disability has ended. (2) If not, does the
claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meet(s) or equal(s) the severity of a listed impairment?
If so, the disability will be found to continue. (3) If not,
has there been a medical improvement? If so, go to step (4).
If not, go to step (5). (4) Is the medical improvement
related to the claimant's ability to do work;
i.e., has there been an increase in the RFC? If not,
go to step (5). If so, go to step (6). (5) If at step (3)
there has been no medical improvement, or if at step (4)
medical improvement is not related to ability to do work, do
any exceptions apply? If one of the improvements from the
first group of medical improvements applies, then look to
step (6). If an exception from the second group applies, then
the disability has ended. (6) Are the claimant's current
impairments severe in combination? If not, the disability has
ended. (7) If so, can the claimant (based on his or her
residual functional capacity) perform his or her past
relevant work? If so, the disability ends. (8) If not, can
the claimant do other work given his or her residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience? If
so, the disability has ended.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f).
determination of whether disability benefits continue is made
on a “neutral basis . . . without any initial
inference” that the claimant's disability
continues. 42 U.S.C. § 423(f)(4); 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(b)(6). As a result, Cook is not entitled to a
presumption of continuing disability. See Frazee v.
Berryhill, No. 1:16cv329, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122292
(N.D. Ind. Aug. 2, 2017) (citing Soper v. Heckler,
754 F.2d 222, 224 n.1 (7th Cir. 1985)) aff'd,
733 Fed.Appx. 831 (2018). The claimant bears the burden of
showing by medical evidence that she is disabled. Mables
v. Sullivan, 812 F.Supp. 886, 888 (C.D. Ill. 1993)
(citing Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 336
(1976)). Nevertheless, where the claimant was initially
determined to be disabled, “it has been long
established that, the ‘Commissioner bears the burden in
a continuing disability case of showing that the claimant has
experienced medical improvement such that he can engage in
substantial gainful activity.'” Johnson v.
Berryhill, No. 1:17cv347, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88592,
at *25 (N.D. Ind. May 24, 2018) (quoting Hickey v.
Colvin, No. 13 C 7857, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82435 (N.D.
Ill. June 25, 2015); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594(b)(5); Mables, 812 F.Supp. 886 at 888.
Standard of Review
Court has authority to review the Commissioner's
decisions regarding continuing disability under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). However, this Court's role in the judicial
review of Social Security Administration cases is limited,
such that it cannot reweigh the facts or evidence. Elder
v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). The Court
must give deference to the ALJ's decision so long as it
is supported by substantial evidence. Thomas v.
Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing
Similia v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir.
2009)). The ALJ's decision must demonstrate a
“logical bridge from the evidence to his
conclusion.” Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929,
935 (7th Cir. 2015). The deference for the ALJ's decision
is lessened where the ALJ's findings contain error of
fact or logic, or fail to apply the correct legal standard.
Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 709 (7th Cir.
an ALJ's decision cannot be affirmed if it lacks
evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th
Cir. 2003). Moreover, the ALJ's decision will lack
sufficient evidentiary support and require remand if it is
clear that the ALJ only selected and discussed evidence that
favored his ultimate conclusion. Wilson v. Colvin,
48 F.Supp.3d 1140, 1147 (N.D. Ill. 2014) (citing Herron
v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994)). At a
minimum, an ALJ must articulate her analysis of the record to
allow the reviewing court to trace a path of her reasoning
and to be assured the ALJ has considered the important
evidence in the record. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d
589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). While the ALJ need not specifically
address every piece of evidence in the record to present the
requisite “logical bridge” from the evidence to
her conclusions, O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627
F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010), the ALJ must at least provide
a glimpse into the reasoning behind her analysis and the
decision to deny benefits. Zurawski v. Halter, 245
F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001).
the question upon judicial review is not whether the claimant
is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ used “the
correct legal standards and the decision [was] supported by
substantial evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705
F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2007). Consequentially, substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla” or
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir.