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Marks v. Berryhill

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

March 11, 2019

LORI LYNN MARKS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Lori Lynn Marks seeks review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her supplemental security income, in part, by failing to incorporate both severe and non-severe limitations into the mental Residual Functional Capacity assessment and hypothetical to the vocational expert.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 2, 2014, the Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on May 1, 2002. (R. 31.) Her claims were denied initially on January 5, 2015, and also upon reconsideration on March 6, 2015. (Id.) On September 21, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) The Plaintiff's husband and Micha A. Daoud, a vocational expert (VE), also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On January 3, 2017, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled as of her application date. (R. 31-41.) On December 8, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-3.)

         On February 6, 2018, the Plaintiff filed this claim [ECF No. 1] in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In this case, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 2, 2014, the application date. (R. 33.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: low back and neck disorder, subaverage intellectual functioning, adjustment disorder with mixed and depressed mood, and asthma. (R. 33.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of the [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 416.920(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things she can still do, despite her limitations-to determine whether she can perform “past relevant work, ” § 416.920(A)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1, and found that the Plaintiff had mild restrictions in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties with social functioning, and moderate difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace. (R. 35.) The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c), except that:

[T]he claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases and other similar respiratory irritants. The claimant can understand, remember and carry out simple instructions and tasks. The claimant can make judgments on simple work related decisions. She can respond appropriately to occasional interactions with coworkers and supervisors. She should avoid work involving the general public, and she can deal with routine changes in a routine work setting.

(R. 36.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her application date. In making this finding, the ALJ considered all of the claimant's symptoms and the extent to which the symptoms could be reasonably accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other ...


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