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Schnetzler v. Berryhill

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

July 3, 2019

EVA ROSE SCHNETZLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HOLLY A. BRADY UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Eva Rose Schnetzler seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied an award of benefits and that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred: (1) by failing to incorporate the limiting effects from all her medically determinable impairments into the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) and failing to make a rational connection between the facts and the RFC; (2) by overemphasizing her daily activities; and (3) by failing to give weight to her strong work history. The Defendant argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision and it should be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 4, 2015, the Plaintiff protectively applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging that she had been disabled since July 12, 2013. The agency denied her claims initially and on reconsideration. After a hearing on June 5, 2017, an ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled at any time from July 12, 2013, through March 31, 2017, the date she last met the insured status requirement of the Act. On February 20, 2018, the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of that decision making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Social Security Act establishes that the Commissioner's findings as to any fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995). The question upon judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence and under the correct legal standard. See Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003); Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Henderson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 507, 512 (7th Cir. 1999).

         It is the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of the case accordingly. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 399-400. The reviewing court reviews the entire record; however it does not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reconsidering facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. See Diaz, 55 F.3d at 308. A court will “conduct a critical review of the evidence, ” considering both the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that detracts from, the Commissioner's decision, and “the decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues.” Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted).

         When an ALJ recommends the denial of benefits, the ALJ must “provide a logical bridge between the evidence and [his] conclusions.” Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Although the ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, “as with any well-reasoned decision, the ALJ must rest its denial of benefits on adequate evidence contained in the record and must explain why contrary evidence does not persuade.” Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008). If the ALJ commits an error of law, reversal is required without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997).

         ANALYSIS

         Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 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 also 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).

         The ALJ conducted the familiar five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in his assessment of the Plaintiff's RFC at step four of the process when he did not incorporate all limitations, overemphasized the Plaintiff's daily activities, and gave no consideration for her strong work history.

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had the RFC to perform most work activities associated with light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b). The ALJ found that the Plaintiff could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and could occasionally reach overhead with her left upper extremity. (R. 15.) In making the RFC finding, the ALJ stated that he considered “all of the claimant's symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence, based on the requirements of 20 CFR 404.1527 and SSR 17-2p.” (R. 15.)

         A. Incorporation of Impairments into the RFC

         The Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ did not incorporate all limitations, including those severe and non-severe, into the RFC, and did not build an accurate and logical bridge. The Defendant argues that the Plaintiff's contentions are without evidentiary support and must fail, as the ALJ adequately considered the evidence and discussed his rationale for assessing the Plaintiff's RFC as he did. An ALJ must consider all a claimant's medically determinable impairments, both severe and non-severe, in the aggregate in determining her RFC. When an ALJ determines that one or more of a claimant's impairments are “severe, ” “the ALJ need[s] to consider the aggregate effect of this entire constellation of ailments-including those impairments that in isolation are not severe.” Golembiewski v. Barnhart, 322 F.3d 912, 918 (7th Cir. 2003) (emphasis in original). “The fact that [an impairment] standing alone is not disabling is not grounds for the ALJ to ignore [it] entirely-it is [its] impact in combination with [the claimant's] other impairments that may be critical to his claim.” Yurt v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 860 (7th Cir. 2014). That is, “a competent evaluation of [a claimant's] application depends on the total effect of all his medical problems.” Golembiewski, 322 F.3d at 918; see also Williams v. Colvin, 757 F.3d 610, 613 (7th Cir. 2014) (“As we-and other circuits-have emphasized repeatedly . . . the combined effects of the applicant's impairments must be considered, including impairments that considered one by one are not disabling.”).“A failure to fully consider the impact of non-severe impairments requires reversal.” Denton v. Astrue, 596 ...


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