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Mary L. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

August 9, 2019

MARY L., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrew P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on petition for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner filed by the plaintiff, Mary L., on May 9, 2018. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Mary L., filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on March 3, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of April 15, 2014. (Tr. 15). The Disability Determination Bureau denied her application initially on May 5, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on June 9, 2015. (Tr. 15). Mary L. subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on June 27, 2015. (Tr. 15). A video hearing was held on May 12, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Lana Johnson, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 6, 2017. (Tr. 15-22). Vocational Expert (VE) Michelle Marie Peters-Pagella testified at the hearing by telephone. (Tr. 15). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).

         Mary L. meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019. (Tr. 17). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Mary L. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 17).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Mary L. had the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, obesity, and diabetes. (Tr. 17). The ALJ indicated that Mary L. had a history of hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism, and hypertension but that the impairments were well-controlled with medication and therefore were not severe. (Tr. 17).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Mary L. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 18). The ALJ considered Mary L.'s impairments against the criteria set forth in listings 1.02, 1.04, and 9.00. (Tr. 18).

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then assessed Mary L.'s residual functional capacity (RFC) as follows:

The claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no more than occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; no more than occasional exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous heavy moving machinery; no more than frequent reaching overhead bilaterally; and no more than frequent handling and fingering bilaterally.

(Tr. 18). The ALJ explained that in considering Mary L.'s symptoms she followed a two-step process. (Tr. 18). First, she determined whether there was an underlying determinable physical or mental impairment that was shown by a medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic technique that reasonably could be expected to produce Mary L.'s pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 18). Then, she evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Mary L.'s functioning. (Tr. 18-19).

         Mary L. indicated that she was unable to work because of her diabetes, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease. (Tr. 19). The ALJ noted that Mary L. was able to prepare her own meals, complete chores, drive a car, and go shopping. (Tr. 19). Mary L. testified that she had pain throughout her body. (Tr. 19). However, the ALJ found that the medical findings did not support her allegations of disabling symptoms and limitations. (Tr. 19). The ALJ indicated that the medically determinable impairments reasonably could be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (Tr. 20). However, her statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. (Tr. 20).

         At step four, the ALJ found that Mary L. was able to perform her past relevant work as a unit manager. (Tr. 22). The ALJ determined that the work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the RFC. (Tr. 22). The ALJ found that Mary L. had not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 15, 2014 through the date of this decision, July 6, 2017. (Tr. 15-22).

         Discussion

         The standard for judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is limited to a determination of whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security, as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.”); Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014); Bates v. Colvin, 736 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2013) (“We will uphold the Commissioner's final decision if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and supported his decision with substantial evidence.”). Courts have defined substantial evidence as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support such a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 852 (1972) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed.2d 140 (1938)); see Bates, 736 F.3d at 1098. A court must affirm an ALJ's decision if the ALJ supported her findings with substantial evidence and ...


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