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Jackson v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2019

CANDY JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Candy Jackson seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The Plaintiff claims that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) failed to incorporate her limitations in her concentration, persistence, and pace into the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). The Plaintiff additionally argues that the ALJ erred in not considering the combined impact of her severe and non-severe impairments.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 13, 2014, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.[1] (R. 21, ECF No. 14.) She alleged disability beginning on July 21, 2013. (Id.) Her claims were denied initially on April 22, 2015, and upon reconsideration on May 19, 2015. (Id.) On July 14, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (Id.) Amy Kutschbach, a vocational expert (VE), also testified at the hearing, by telephone. (Id.) On October 28, 2016, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled from her alleged onset date. (R. 20-37.) On October 4, 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 December 2, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim [ECF No. 1] in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         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), 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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) since September 30, 2012, her date last insured. (R. 24.) In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting the ability to do basic work activities pursuant to § 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). Here, the ALJ determined that beginning October 25, 2015, the Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, a history of arthritis in her left knee, left leg lipoma, left knee prepatellar bursitis, major depressive disorder, and borderline personality disorder. (R. 33) The ALJ did not find that the Plaintiff's headaches were severe impairments that significantly limited her physical ability to do basic work activities. (R. 40-41.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rises to this level, she earns a presumption of disability “without considering her age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d); § 416.920(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, falls short, an ALJ must move to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things she can still do physically, despite her limitations-to determine whether she can perform this “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv) and § 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, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v) and § 416.920(a)(4)(v). In the instant case, upon review of the medical evidence, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, do not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 (R. 35), and that the Plaintiff has the RFC to perform light work, as defined by § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with certain physical restrictions, and:

[T]he claimant is limited to work which involves only simple, routine and repetitive tasks that can be learned through short demonstration and in up to thirty days; she has been able to maintain the concentration required to perform simple tasks; she can remember simple work-like procedures; she can make simple work-related decisions; and she can maintain the concentration and attention, as well as the persistence to perform such duties on a day-in and day-out basis, for eight hours per day, five days per week or within some other form of full time competitive work schedule.

(R. 39.)

         At the final step of the evaluation, relying in part on the VE's testimony as based on the provided RFC, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 42-43.)

         The Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (R. 1-3.) The Appeals Council subsequently denied review (id), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir. 2009). The Plaintiff now seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         STANDARD ...


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