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Thompson v. Berryhill

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

April 10, 2019

MELISSA G. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          William C. Lee, Judge

         This matter is before the court for judicial review of a final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), as provided for in the Social Security Act. Section 205(g) of the Act provides, inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer, the [Commissioner] shall file a certified copy of the transcript of the record including the evidence upon which the findings and decision complained of are based. The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the case for a rehearing." It also provides, "[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         The law provides that an applicant for DIB must establish an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than 12 months. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3). It is not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an impairment exists. It must be shown that the impairment is severe enough to preclude the plaintiff from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Gotshaw v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840 (7th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 945 (1963); Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp. 1098 (N.D.Ill. 1979). It is well established that the burden of proving entitlement to disability insurance benefits is on the plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d 36 (7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v. Cohen, 425 F.2d 20 (7th Cir. 1970).

         Given the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this court] is whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] findings." Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial evidence is defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984) quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v. Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed, 42 U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of law." Garfield, supra at 607; see also Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).

         In the present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 14, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the severe impairments of lumbosacral spondylosis without myelopathy, moderate thoracic scoliosis but with mild levocurvature facet changes absent significant disc disease or nerve impingement and with lumbago; Crohn's disease; anxiety; and depression (Exhibits 1F to 17F) (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
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, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) with lifting/carrying/pushing/pulling 10 pounds frequently and occasionally and with sitting six hours in an eight-hour workday and standing and/or walking two hours in an eight-hour workday. As to additional limitations, the claimant should not climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally kneel, crouch, crawl, balance, can occasionally bend and stoop in addition to what is required to sit, and can occasionally use ramps and stairs. Aside from the use of ramps and stairs on an occasional basis, the claimant should not work upon uneven surfaces, should avoid work within close proximity to open and exposed heights, and should avoid open and dangerous machinery such as open flames and fast moving exposed blades. The claimant cannot drive motor vehicles or operate heavy machinery. The claimant should avoid work within close proximity to very loud noises (level 5) such as a fire alarm or very bright flashing lights such as a strobe more than occasionally, and needs to avoid extreme cold such as a refrigerator, or outside in the winter. Mentally, the claimant is limited to superficial interaction with coworkers, supervisors and the public, and with superficial interaction defined as occasional and casual contact not involving prolonged conversation, while still allowing necessary contact with supervisors for necessary instruction. In addition, prolonged conversation is not necessary for task completion. The claimant is limited to work that involves only simple, routine and repetitive tasks that can be learned through short demonstration and up to thirty days, she retains the capacity to maintain the concentration required to perform simple tasks, she can remember simple worklike procedures and make simple work-related decisions. The claimant 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 environment.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on February 25, 1972, and was 42 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age 45-49 (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
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 ...

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