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Arnold v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

May 28, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Pamela Arnold seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying her disability benefits and asks this Court to remand the case. For the reasons below, this Court remands the Administrative Law Judge's decision.

         A. Overview of the Case

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental security income under Title XVI. In her applications, Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on March 1, 2008. (R. at 16.) Plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2008. (R. at 16.) The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff did not meet her burden of proof in providing evidence to support disability prior to her date last insured for her Title II claim. As such, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's Title II application at Step Two, and the remainder of the ALJ's decision only regarded the Title XVI claim. (R. at 16-17.) After a video hearing before an ALJ in 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of seizure disorder, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorder in remission. (R. at 19.) The ALJ did, however, find that a number of jobs existed which Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 31- 32.) Therefore, the ALJ found her to be not disabled. (R. at 32.) This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1.)

         B. Standard of Review

         This Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will ensure that the ALJ built an “accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). This requires the ALJ to “confront the [plaintiff's] evidence” and “explain why it was rejected.” Thomas v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 953, 961 (7th Cir. 2016). The Court will uphold decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Evidence is substantial if “a reasonable mind might accept [it] as adequate to support [the ALJ's] conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).

         C. Disability Standard

         The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:

(1) Whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

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).

         D. Analysis

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ committed four reversible errors: the ALJ erred in dismissing Plaintiff's Title II/Disability Insurance Benefits claim, in evaluating Listings, in the subjective symptom analysis, and in weighing medical opinion evidence.

         (1) Disability insurance benefits

         Plaintiff filed applications for both Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not establish a severe impairment or combination of impairments prior to December 31, 2008, her date last insured. (R. at 15.) The ALJ found that there were only two exhibits containing evidence prior to the date last insured, and none of the evidence supported a severe impairment. (R. at 16.) Plaintiff argues that there are multiple mentions of her impairments before the date last insured. However, all the records that Plaintiff cites to are self-reported pain. For instance, Plaintiff states in a May 2015 pain management visit that she has struggled with back pain since 2006 that required an epidural. (R. at 1034.) However, there is no medical evidence in the record (outside of statements from Plaintiff) that supports this assertion. Plaintiff also asserts that she began having seizures prior to the date last insured, but there is ...

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