United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge.
Heidi Music seeks judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner's decision denying her application for Title
II Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) as
allowed under 42 U.S.C. § 423(d). This Court may enter a
ruling in this matter based on the parties' consent
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Music filed her opening brief on May 21, 2018. [DE
14]. The Commissioner responded on June 19, 2018. [DE 16].
The matter is now ripe for adjudication, as Music has neither
replied nor sought an extension of time within the 14-days
prescribed by Local Rule 7-3(d). For the reasons below, the
Court affirms the decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Overview of the Case
filed an application for DIB with the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) on April 8, 2014, alleging
a disability onset date of November 1, 2009. Music's
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. At
her request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) on December 19, 2016, at which
Music amended her onset date to February 5,
2013. Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a
written decision on May 16, 2017, based upon the five-step
disability evaluation process prescribed by the SSA's
regulations. See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
One, the ALJ reviewed internal SSA earnings records and
determined that Music-a high school graduate who had worked
previously as a dairy farm worker-had engaged in substantial
gainful activity between the amended alleged onset date of
February 5, 2013, through the end of December 2015. [DE 10 at
23]. As a result, the ALJ stated that “the remainder of
this decision pertains to January 1, 2016, through the date
of this decision.” [DE 10 at 23]. Nevertheless, the ALJ
cited to medical evidence dating from as early as March 2012
until August 22, 2016, in his analysis of the subsequent
steps in the disability determination.
Two, the ALJ found that Music had the following severe
impairments: (1) lumbar spine degenerative disc disease; (2)
cervical degenerative disc disease; (3) obstructive sleep
apnea; (4) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”); (5) asthma; (6) periodic limb movement
disorder; (7) obesity; (8) migraines; and (9) left hand early
primary osteoarthritis. At Step Three of the evaluation, the
ALJ concluded that Music's impairments did not meet or
medically equal the severity of any of the listed
proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ analyzed Music's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and
concluded that she retained the ability to perform light work
with some limitations. Based on this RFC, the ALJ found that
Music is unable to perform past relevant work, at Step Four.
At Step Five, however, the ALJ found that, in consideration
of Music's age, education, work experience, and RFC,
Music can perform a significant number of jobs that exist
within the national economy, including office helper,
packager, and inspector as those jobs are defined by the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Based upon these findings,
the ALJ concluded that Music has not been under a disability
as defined by the SSA, from February 5, 2013, through May 16,
2017, and denied Music's claims for benefits.
[Id. at 30].
order to qualify for DIB, a claimant must be
“disabled” under the Social Security Act
(“Act”). A person is disabled under the Act if
“he or she has an inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Commissioner's five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for
disability benefits under the Act includes determinations as
to: (1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful
activity (“SGA”); (2) whether the claimant's
impairments are severe; (3) whether any of the claimant's
impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal one of
the Listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404; (4)
whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work based
upon her RFC; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of
making an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520; see also Kastner v. Astrue, 697
F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). The claimant bears the burden
of proof at every step except Step Five. Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).
Standard of Review
Court has authority to review a disability decision by the
Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However,
this Court's role in reviewing Social Security cases is
limited. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th
Cir. 2008). A court reviews the entire administrative record,
but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve
conflicts of evidence, decide questions of credibility, or
substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v.
Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). 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 deference for the ALJ's decision is lessened
where the ALJ's findings contain errors of fact or logic,
or fail to apply the correct legal standard. Schomas v.
Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 709 (7th Cir. 2013).
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). An ALJ's decision will lack sufficient
evidentiary support and require remand if it is clear that
the ALJ “cherry-picked” the record to support a
finding of non-disability. Denton v. Astrue, 596
F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Wilson
v. Colvin, 48 F.Supp.3d 1140, 1147 (N.D. Ill. 2014). At
a minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the record
to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his
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 his conclusions, the ALJ must at least provide a
glimpse into the reasoning behind his analysis and the
decision to grant or deny benefits. O'Connor-Spinner
v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); see
also Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th
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 to deny benefits
[was] supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v.
Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2007). Substantial
evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less
than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478
F.3d 836, 841 (7th. Cir. 2007). Thus, substantial evidence is
simply “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.
2017); Kepple v. Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th.