United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
RAMONA D. HAWKINS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MAGISTRATE JUDGE JOSHUA P. KOLAR UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 2], filed by
Plaintiff Ramona D. Hawkins on April 6, 2018, and an Opening
Brief of Plaintiff in Social Security Appeal Pursuant to L.R.
7.3 [DE 18], filed on October 2, 2018. Plaintiff requests
that the January 31, 2018 decision of the Administrative Law
Judge denying her claim for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income be reversed and remanded for
further proceedings. On December 21, 2018, the Commissioner
filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on January 4,
2019. For the following reasons, the Court grants
Plaintiff's request for remand.
August 29, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, and on November 18, 2013,
Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security
income. The disability insurance benefits application was
denied initially and on reconsideration, and the supplemental
security income application was escalated to the hearing
level. Following a hearing held on December 18, 2013, the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable
decision. Plaintiff filed suit in federal court, and, on
March 30, 2017, the district court reversed the decision and
remanded for further proceedings.
November 10, 2017, Plaintiff amended the disability onset
date and requested a closed period of disability from
December 31, 2009, to August 10, 2015. A new hearing was held
before the ALJ on November 16, 2017, and, on January 31,
2018, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, making the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through March 30, 2017.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful
activity during the requested closed period, December 31,
2009, to August 10, 2015.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: major
depressive disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder;
degenerative changes of the cervical spine, lumbar
degenerative disc disease, status post surgery in 2008;
minimal tri-compartmental degenerative osteophytes of the
right knee; minimal degenerative changes in the left knee;
stable chondral lesion of the left humeral head with
tendinopathy; mild degenerative changes of the left
acromio-clavicular (AC) joint; mild obstructive sleep apnea;
insomnia; hypothyroidism; and obesity.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [ALJ
found] that the claimant has the residual functional capacity
to perform less than the full range of sedentary work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a). She can lift,
carry, push, and pull ten pounds, stand and/or walk for four
hours during an eight-hour workday, sit for six hours
throughout the workday, but cannot engage in any overhead
work or any overhead reaching with her upper extremities. The
claimant retains the mental residual functional capacity to
perform tasks involving simple instructions, defined as tasks
and instructions that can be learned through short
demonstrations or when beyond short demonstration, up to and
including one month, or in other words, special vocational
preparation (SVP) levels one and two. She can make judgment
and apply the common sense understanding required to carry
out such instructions and tasks with both tasks and
instructions falling within the realm of reasoning levels 1,
2, and 3. She can remember the associated work like
procedures and maintain the focus, persistence,
concentration, pace, and attention required to engage in such
tasks for two hour increments and for eight-hour workdays
within a low stress job defined as requiring only occasional
decision making and only occasional changes in the work
setting. The claimant can tolerate predictable changes in the
work environment and meet production requirements in an
environment that allows her to sustain a flexible and goal
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1964] and was 50[sic] years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 45-49, on the
alleged disability onset date.
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from August 10, 2015, through the
date of this decision.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
416.1481. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Agency's decision.
parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to
a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further
proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in
this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide
this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C.
Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the
agency's final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The
question before the Court is not whether the claimant is, in
fact, disabled but whether the ALJ “uses the correct
legal standards and the decision is supported by substantial
evidence.” Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523,
526 (7th Cir. 2017); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
§ 405(g), the Court must accept the Commissioner's
factual findings as conclusive if they are supported by
substantial evidence, which is “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118,
1120- 21 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court reviews the entire
administrative record but does not re-weigh the evidence,
resolve conflicts in evidence, or substitute its judgment for
that of the ALJ. See McKinzey v. Astrue, 641 F.3d
884, 890 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003)). However,
“if the Commissioner commits an error of law, ”
the Court may reverse the decision “without regard to
the volume of evidence in support of the factual
findings.” White v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373
(7th Cir. 1999) (citing Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d
780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997)).
minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence
in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of
his reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the
important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d
589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). “The ALJ has a basic
obligation to develop a full and fair record and must build
an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the
result to afford the claimant meaningful judicial review of
the administrative findings.” Beardsley v.
Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal
eligible for disability benefits under the Social Security
Act, a claimant must establish that she suffers from a
“disability, ” which is defined as an inability
to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that
can be expected to result in death or that 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).
follows a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant
is disabled: (1) whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of
disability, (2) whether the claimant has a medically
determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is
severe, (3) whether the claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments meets or medically equals the
criteria of any impairment listed in the regulations as
presumptively disabling, (4) whether, if the claimant does
not meet a listing, the claimant is unable to perform the
claimant's past relevant work, and (5) whether, if the
claimant is ...