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Leya S. v. Saul

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

June 27, 2019

LEYA S., [1] Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Leya S. requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The Court rules as follows.


         The Plaintiff filed her applications for SSI and DIB on October 20, 2014, alleging an onset of disability on September 10, 2014. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) initially denied the Plaintiff's applications on February 13, 2015. After she timely requested reconsideration, SSA again denied her claim on July 24, 2015. Thereafter, the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on May 16, 2017, at which the Plaintiff, represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified. The ALJ issued a decision denying the Plaintiff's applications on December 13, 2017. After the Appeals Council upheld the decision on June 14, 2018, the Plaintiff filed this action seeking judicial review.


         The relevant evidence of record is amply set forth in the parties' briefs and need not be repeated here. Specific facts relevant to the Court's disposition of this case are discussed below.


         Disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(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 any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity she is not disabled, despite her medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).[2] At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve- month durational requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

         In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ, Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” she must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and her conclusion that a claimant is not disabled.” Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). “If a decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, a remand is required.” Id. (citation omitted).


         The ALJ found at step one that the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 10, 2014, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had “the following severe impairments: pseudotumor cerebri with benign intracranial hypertension, chronic headache, thoracic spine syrinx/syringomyelia with history of low back pain, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, obesity, vision impairment, focal cartilaginous defect of the knees bilaterally, history of seizure vs. syncope, depression, dysthymic disorder, anxiety with panic attack, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorder without agoraphobia.” R. at 18 (citation omitted). The ALJ found at step three that the impairments, or combination of impairments, did not meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. The ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was as follows:

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) and 416.967(a) except lift, push, pull, and carry ten pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently; sit, stand, and walk each six hours of an eight-hour workday; never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolding; occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, and climb stairs and ramps; only occasionally stoop but no stooping below the waist; never crawl; no exposure to unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; limited to simple and routine work; limited to work that allows the individual to be off task five percent of the workday in addition to regularly scheduled breaks; and limited to work that requires no greater than frequent depth perception.

R. at 17. At step four, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a CNA. At step five, the ALJ found, based on VE testimony and considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform, including addresser, mail ...

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