United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON APPROPRIATE DISPOSITION
OF THE ACTION
MATTHEW P. BROOKMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) for a Report and
Recommendation as to its appropriate disposition. (Docket No.
14). Plaintiff Andrea B. seeks judicial review of the Social
Security Administration's final decision deeming her
ineligible for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The
matter is fully briefed with the reply period passing without
filing from Plaintiff. (Docket No. 7; Docket No. 13). It is
recommended that the District Judge AFFIRM
the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration finding that Plaintiff Andrea B. is not
Andrea B., protectively filed her application for Title II on
September 22, 2014, for disability insurance benefits,
alleging disability beginning August 6, 2014. (Docket No. 5-2
at ECF p. 12). Her claim was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. (Docket No. 5-2 at ECF p. 12; Docket No. 5-6
at ECF p. 3; Docket No. 5-6 at ECF p. 9).
Administrate Law Judge (ALJ) Elias Xenos held a hearing on
March 8, 2017, at which Andrea B., represented by counsel,
and a vocational expert (VE) Luann Castellana, appeared and
testified. (Docket No. 5-2 at ECF p. 12).
the hearing, on March 30, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision. (Docket No. 5-2 at ECF pp. 12-24). On March 10,
2018, the Appeals Council denied review, thereby rendering it
the agency's final decision for purposes of judicial
review. (Docket No. 5-2 at ECF pp. 2-5). On May 8, 2018,
Andrea B. timely filed this civil action, asking the Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final
decision of the Deputy Commissioner denying her benefits.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show she is unable 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). Plaintiff is disabled if her impairments are
of such severity that she is not able to perform the work she
previously engaged in and, if based on her age, education,
and work experience, she cannot engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers
in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The
Social Security Administration (SSA) has implemented these
statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if she is, then she is not disabled. Step
two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe. If they are not, then she is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether
the claimant's impairments, either singly or in
combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of
the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the Listings). The Listings
includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA
has pre-determined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets
all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents
medical findings equal in severity to the criteria for the
most similarly listed impairment, then the claimant is
presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. Sims
v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then her
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite her
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the
RFC to perform her past relevant work, then she is not
disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the
relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on her
vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and
her RFC. If so, then she is not disabled.
individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then
the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform, given her age, education, work
experience, and functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995,
1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. This Court must affirm the ALJ's
decision unless it lacks the support of substantial evidence
or rests upon a legal error. See, e.g., Nelms v.
Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009); 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Substantial evidence means evidence that a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ- not the Court-holds discretion to
weigh evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent
factual findings, and decide questions of credibility.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399- 400
(1971). Accordingly, the Court may not reevaluate facts,
reweigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for the
ALJ's. See Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d
1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999).
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for his decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every
piece of evidence in his decision, but he cannot ignore a
line of evidence that undermines the conclusions he made. The
ALJ must trace the path of his reasoning and connect the
evidence to his findings and conclusions. Arnett v.
Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012); Clifford
v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
The ALJ's Sequential Findings
met the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2018. (Docket No. 5-2 at ECF p.
14). She had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 6, 2014, the alleged onset date through the date
of the decision. (Id.).
followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the
SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) and ultimately concluded
that Andrea B. was not disabled. (Docket No. 5-2 at ECF p.
24). At step one, the ALJ found that Andrea B. had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity. (Docket No. 5-2
at ECF p. 14). At step two, the ALJ found that Andrea B. had
the following severe impairments:
[O]steoarthritis of the bilateral knees, status post left
midfoot nonunion repair, status post right knee arthroplasty,
bilateral knee efussion, chronic low back pain with
left-sided sciatica, and lumbar spondylosis.
(Docket No. 5-2 at ECF p. 14). At step three, the ALJ found
that Andrea B. did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the listed impairments-specifically considering Listings
1.02, 1.03, 1.04(A), 1.04(B), and 1.04(C). (Docket No. 5-2 at