Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gina S. v. Saul

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

August 5, 2019

GINA S., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF APPEAL

          TIM A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff appeals the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for disability benefits. Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge's factual findings and conclusions regarding her mental impairments, ability to sustain work, and daily activities are not supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that Plaintiff's request for remand be denied because the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence. Any evidence omitted amounts to nothing more than harmless error.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits on January 27, 2015, alleging disability beginning October 16, 2013. The agency denied her claims initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         The ALJ considered Plaintiff's claim for benefits according to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a). First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2015. Next, at step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine, degenerative joint disease of the bilateral sacroiliac joints, mild degenerative joint disease of the hips, and avulsion fracture of the greater trochanter of the left femur. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's shoulder, wrist, and knee impairments were non-severe. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's mental impairments of affective disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse were also non-severe and did not cause more than minimal limitation in her ability to perform basic mental work activities.

         At step 3, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Before reaching step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to sit for one hour at a time, for a total of six hours in the eight-hour workday and could stand and/or walk for one hour at a time, for a total of six hours in the eight-hour workday. At step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform past relevant work as a benefits clerk, as such work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Plaintiff's RFC. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled from October 16, 2013, through January 28, 2019, the date of the ALJ's decision.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence. This Court's review of an ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the factual findings in that decision are supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). “Substantial evidence . . . is more than a mere scintilla. It means- and means only-such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Biestek v. Berryhill, __ U.S. __, __, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         a. Non-severe Mental Impairment

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ failed to build a logical bridge to her conclusion that Plaintiff does not suffer from severe mental impairment and did not adequately articulate her findings so they can be meaningfully reviewed. For example, Plaintiff contends the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff alleged she suffered from bipolar disorder, but that it was “not a medically determinable impairment, ” is not supported by substantial evidence. [Filing No. 11, at ECP p. 13.] But the ALJ noted that the record contained only Plaintiff's self-reported diagnosis with bipolar disorder and associated symptoms, such as mood swings, irritability, and difficulty calming herself. The actual medical evidence on record contained no such diagnosis, and a subjective claim alone is not a medically determinable impairment. See20 CFR § 404.1521 (“Your impairment(s) must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. Therefore, a physical or mental impairment must be established by objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. We will not use your statement of symptoms, a diagnosis, or a medical opinion to establish the existence of an impairment(s).”). Thus, this component of the ALJ's finding was supported by substantial evidence.

         Plaintiff also contends that the fact that she stopped taking her medication on her own is further evidence that she was managing herself poorly. Plaintiff cites Martinez v. Astrue, 630 F.3d 693, 697 (7th Cir. 2011), in which the Seventh Circuit noted that “people with serious psychiatric problems are often incapable of taking their prescribed medications consistently.” In this case, the ALJ's decision acknowledges that Plaintiff reported that she stopped taking citalopram in 2016. It is not the role of the Court to reweigh evidence. See, e.g., Young, 362 F.3d at 1001 (“In reviewing the decision of the ALJ, we cannot engage in our own analysis of whether [the plaintiff] is severely impaired as defined by the SSA regulations. Nor may we reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or in general, substitute our own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” (Internal citation omitted)). The ALJ relied on a multitude of other pieces of evidence to support her finding that Plaintiff did not have a severe mental impairment. [Filing No. 8-2, at ECF p. 21-22.]

         Plaintiff also claims the ALJ did not address that Plaintiff had been contacted by a crisis team after reporting suicidal ideation with a plan and that the ALJ failed to raise and address contradictory evidence regarding her poor hygiene, history of substance abuse, and problems with anger. “Although an ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence in the record, the ALJ may not ignore an entire line of evidence that is contrary to the ruling.” Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2009). Here, the ALJ noted in her decision that Plaintiff denied past suicide attempts and suicidal ideation at the psychological consultative examination in March 2015. In the evaluation, Plaintiff had no history of suicide attempts, and the evaluator noted that there was no evidence of current suicidal, homicidal, or psychotic symptoms. [Filing No. 8-8, at ECF p. 45-46.] However, the ALJ did not mention that in May 2017, a social worker called Plaintiff after Plaintiff gave a positive response to one question on a depression screening. Upon contacting Plaintiff via telephone, Plaintiff reported chronic suicidal thoughts since 1999. She also reported that on May 4, 2017, she had contemplated cutting her wrist, but ultimately did not after considering her religious beliefs and the fact that doing so would hurt. [Filing No. 8-11, at ECF p. 121-22.] Plaintiff denied any active suicidal intent or plan to harm herself or homicidal thoughts. The social worker concluded that Plaintiff did not seem to be an acute risk for self-harm.

         Even if it were error for the ALJ to fail to include reference to the May 2017 incident, it was at most harmless, as ultimately that evidence indicated Plaintiff denied any active suicidal intent and was not an acute risk for self-harm, which aligns with the evidence the ALJ did mention in her decision. See, e.g., Stepp v. Colvin, 795 F.3d 711, 719 (7th Cir. 2015) (“[A]ny error on the ALJ's part in failing to discuss this evidence was harmless.”). Thus, “[t]he ALJ's failure to address these specific findings. . . does not render his decision unsupported by substantial evidence because an ALJ need not address every piece of evidence in his decision. The ALJ ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.