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Kaylynn K. v. Saul

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

July 18, 2019

KAYLYNN K., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Defendant.


          Mark J. Dinsmore, United States Magistrate Judge

         Kaylynn K. requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (2018). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Judge REVERSE and REMAND the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. Background

         Claimant filed an application for SSI on June 30, 2015. Claimant alleges disability due to problems with epilepsy, organic brain disorder, anxiety, and depression. [Dkt. 8 at 3.] Claimant's claim was initially denied on October 6, 2015, and denied again on November 5, 2015, upon reconsideration. [Dkt. 5-2 at 12.] Claimant timely filed a written request for a hearing on December 1, 2015. [Dkt. 5-2 at 12.] The hearing was held on August 11, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge Kathleen Kadlec (“ALJ”). [Dkt. 5-2 at 12.] The ALJ issued a decision on November 1, 2017, again denying Claimant's application for SSI. [Dkt. 5-2 at 24.] The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review of the ALJ's decision. [Dkt. 5-2 at 2-5.] Claimant now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for 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, she is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities, she 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. p. 404, subpart P, App. 1, she 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. § 416.920. 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 judgment 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 a claimant 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 her decision on all of the relevant evidence, Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994), and must “provide some glimpse into [her] reasoning” to “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion, ” she 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 had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 30, 2015, the application date. [Dkt. 5-2 at 14.] At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant “[had] the following severe impairments: epilepsy, organic brain disorder, anxiety, and depression.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 14.] However, the ALJ found that although Claimant does have “severe” impairments, Claimant “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 15.]

         In making this determination, the ALJ considered all of the listings described in Appendix I of the Regulations (20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P, App. 1) and paid particular attention to listings 11.02 (epilepsy), 12.02 (neurocognitive disorders), 12.04 (depressive, bipolar and related disorders), and 12.06 (anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders). The ALJ set forth the criteria for listing 11.02 and concluded that the “medical records do not document that the claimant has experienced seizures at listing 11.03 [sic] frequency.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 16.] Further, the ALJ reasoned that (1) Claimant's allegation of seizures was based upon Claimant's report to doctors and (2) Claimant has not undergone any hospital treatment for seizures. [Dkt. 5-2 at 16.]

         The ALJ then considered listings 12.02, 12.04, and 12.06. The ALJ determined that the “severity of the claimant's mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, do not meet or medically equal the criteria . . . .” [Dkt. 5-2 at 16.] In making this decision, the ALJ reviewed the “paragraph B” criteria under each listing in section 12. To satisfy the “paragraph B” criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least one extreme or two marked limitations in a broad area of functioning which includes: (1) understanding, remembering, or applying information; (2) interacting with others; (3) concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; or (4) adapting or managing oneself. A marked limitation means “functioning in this area independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis is seriously limited, ” while an extreme limitation is “the inability to function independently, appropriately, or effectively, and on a sustained basis.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 16.] Using the criteria, the ALJ found that in understanding, remembering, or applying information Claimant had a mild limitation. [Dkt. 5-2 at 16.] In interacting with others, Claimant had a moderate limitation. [Dkt. 5-2 at 16.] Next, with concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace, Claimant also had a moderate limitation. [Dkt. 5-2 at 17.] Lastly, as for adapting or managing oneself, Claimant had a mild limitation. [Dkt. 5-2 at 17.] Therefore, because Claimant's mental impairments did not cause at least two “marked” limitations or one “extreme” limitation, the “paragraph B” criteria were not satisfied.

         At step four, the ALJ analyzed Claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ concluded:

[C]laimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b). She can lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can stand for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. She can walk for 6 hours. She can sit for 6 hours. She can push/pull as much as she can lift/carry. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can frequently climb ramps and stairs. She cannot work at unprotected heights or with moving mechanical parts. She cannot operate a motor vehicle. She is limited to simple, routine tasks and simple ...

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