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Donielle H. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

April 15, 2019

DONIELLE H., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [2] Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          JAMES PATRICK HANLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Donielle H. (the “Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration's decision denying her petition for certain benefits. For the reasons that follow, the decision is AFFIRMED.

         The Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on August 18, 2014, alleging an onset date of August 14, 2013. [Dkt. 8-2 at 12.] Her application was initially denied on October 7, 2014, [Dkt. 8-4 at 2], and again upon reconsideration on November 26, 2014, [Dkt. 8-4 at 6]. Administrative Law Judge Belinda J. Brown (the “ALJ”) conducted a hearing on August 30, 2016, [Dkt. 8-2 at 65-87], and a supplemental hearing on June 20, 2017, [Dkt. 8-2 at 90-100]. The ALJ issued a decision on July 19, 2017, concluding that the Plaintiff was not entitled to receive DIB. [Dkt. 8-2 at 8.] The Appeals Council denied review on August 3, 2018. [Dkt. 8-2 at 2.] On September 28, 2018, the Plaintiff timely filed this civil action asking the Court to review the denial of benefits according to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [Dkt. 1.]

         I.

         Standard of Review

          “The Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits … to individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory definition of ‘disability' has two parts. First, it requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second, it requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted or can be expected to last … not less than 12 months.” Id. at 217. “The standard for disability claims under the Social Security Act is stringent.” Williams-Overstreet v. Astrue, 364 Fed.Appx. 271, 274 (7th Cir. 2010). “Even claimants with substantial impairments are not necessarily entitled to benefits, which are paid for by taxes, including taxes paid by those who work despite serious physical or mental impairments and for whom working is difficult and painful.” Id. at 274.

         When an applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, “[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). Because the ALJ “is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, ” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must accord the ALJ's credibility determination “considerable deference, ” overturning it only if it is “patently wrong.” Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

         The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.

Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (alterations in original). “If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, she will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then she must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.” Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

         After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) by evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ “may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling.” Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform her own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e), (g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Commissioner. See Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

         If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits “is appropriate only where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).

         II.

         Background

          The Plaintiff was 30 years of age at the time she applied for DIB. [Dkt. 8-5 at 2.] She has completed three years of college. [Dkt. 8-6 at 6.] She has worked in retail, food service, and medical recordkeeping. [Dkt. 8-6 at 6; Dkt. 8-2 at 21.][3]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. [Dkt. 8-2 at 22.] Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One, the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[4]since August 14, 2013, the alleged ...

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