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Janet D. v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

July 10, 2019

JANET D., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Claimant requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). See42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3)(A). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is REVERSED AND REMANDED.

         I. Background

         Claimant filed an application for DIB on April 23, 2015. [Dkt. 10-2 at 18.] Soon thereafter, on May 14, 2015, Claimant also filed an application for SSI. [Id.] In both applications, Claimant alleged an onset disability date of January 10, 2015. [Id.] Claimant alleges disability due to mild lumbar degenerative disease, disc herniation with radiculopathy, mild cervical degenerative disc disease, and fibromyalgia.[1] [Id. at 21.] Claimant's application was initially denied on July 28, 2015, and denied again on November 23, 2015, upon reconsideration. [Id. at 18.] Claimant timely filed a written request for a hearing, which was held on May 24, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge Michael S. Worrall (“ALJ”). [Id.] The ALJ issued a decision on September 28, 2017, again denying Claimant's applications for SSI. [Id. at 15.] On July 17, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for the purposes of judicial review. [Id. at 4.] Claimant timely filed her Complaint with this Court on September 19, 2018, which Complaint is now before the Court. [SeeDkt. 1.]

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB or SSI, a claimant must have a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423. 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 determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner, as represented by the ALJ, employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities, he is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and she is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and cannot perform her past relevant work but she can perform certain other available work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (2012).[2] Before continuing to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), by evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that were not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009).

         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. 2007). This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgement for that of the ALJ but may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000)); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). 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). 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.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.” Prochsaka v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006). While the ALJ must base his decision on all of the relevant evidence, Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994), and must “provide some glimpse into his reasoning” to “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, ” he need not “address every piece of evidence or testimony.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that Claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 10, 2015, the alleged onset date. [Dkt. 10-2 at 20.] At step two, the ALJ determined that Claimant “has the following severe impairments: mild lumbar degenerative disc disease; disc herniation with radiculopathy; mild cervical degenerative disc disease; and fibromyalgia.” [Id. at 21.] However, at step three, the ALJ found that Claimant “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments . . . .” [Id. at 25.] In making this determination, the ALJ considered Listings 1.04 (Disorders of the Spine), 11.14 (Peripheral Neuropathies), 14.09 (Inflammatory Arthritis), as well as SSR 12-2p. [Id. at 25-26.]

         The ALJ next analyzed Claimant's RFC. He concluded that Claimant had the RFC to perform the following:

[L]ift and carry 20 pounds occasionally or 10 pounds frequently. [Claimant] can sit 6 hours and stand for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, with normal breaks. She can push and pull to the extent of her lifting and carrying capacity. [Claimant] can occasionally climb . . . ramps, but never climb stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally balance or stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. [Claimant] should avoid concentrated exposure to wetness, and never work at unprotected heights, around dangerous moving machinery, or the operation of a motor vehicle as part of her job duties.

[Id. at 26-27.]

         In finding these limitations, the ALJ considered Claimant's “symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence . . . .” [Id. at 27.] The ALJ then acknowledged that the evidence presented could reasonably show that Claimant suffers from some of the symptoms she alleges. [Id. at 34.] However, the ALJ found that ...

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