United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Paula
Hoopingarner's (“Hoopingarner”) appeal of the
Social Security Administration's (“SSA”)
Decision dated March 9, 2017 (the “Decision”).
Hoopingarner filed her Brief in Support of Her Request for
Review and Remand of the Commissioner of Social
Security's Final Decision (ECF No. 13) on August 27,
2018. Defendant filed his Memorandum in Support of
Commissioner's Decision (ECF No. 16) on December 10,
2018. Hoopingarner filed her Reply Brief in Support of her
Request for Review and Remand of the Commissioner of Social
Security's Final Decision (ECF No. 17) on December 17,
2018. This matter is now ripe for review.
Standard of Review
claimant who is found to be “not disabled” may
challenge the Commissioner's final decision in federal
court. This Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla of proof.” Kepple
v. Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001). It
means “evidence a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support the decision.” Murphy v.
Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2007); see also
Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995)
(substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation and quotations omitted).
determining whether there is substantial evidence, the Court
reviews the entire record. Kepple, 268 F.3d at 516.
However, review is deferential. Skinner v. Astrue,
478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). A reviewing court will not
“reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions
of credibility, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of
the Commissioner.” Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d
535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000)).
if, after a “critical review of the evidence, ”
the ALJ's decision “lacks evidentiary support or an
adequate discussion of the issues, ” this Court will
not affirm it. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539 (citations
omitted). While the ALJ need not discuss every piece of
evidence in the record, he “must build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion.”
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir.
2001). Further, the ALJ “may not select and discuss
only that evidence that favors his ultimate conclusion,
” Diaz, 55 F.3d at 308, but “must
confront the evidence that does not support his conclusion
and explain why it was rejected, ” Indoranto v.
Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th Cir. 2004). Ultimately,
the ALJ must “sufficiently articulate his assessment of
the evidence to assure” the court that he
“considered the important evidence” and to enable
the court “to trace the path of [his] reasoning.”
Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir.
1993) (quoting Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284,
287 (7th Cir. 1985) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
The ALJ's Decision
person suffering from a disability that renders her unable to
work may apply to the Social Security Administration for
disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A) (defining disability 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”). To be found disabled, a claimant must
demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent
her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other
kind of gainful employment that exists in the national
economy, considering her age, education, and work experience.
§ 423(d)(2)(A); § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
claimant's application is denied initially and on
reconsideration, she may request a hearing before an ALJ.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(b)(1). An ALJ conducts a
five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny
benefits: (1) whether the claimant is currently employed, (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment, (3) whether the
claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner
considers conclusively disabling, (4) if the claimant does
not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he has
the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant
work, and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing
any work in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001).
one, the ALJ determined that Hoopingarner had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 23, 2014. At step
two, the ALJ found that Hoopingarner had the following severe
impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain syndrome, and obesity. The
ALJ further found that Hoopingarner had the following
non-severe impairments: headaches, depressive disorder and
generalized anxiety disorder. Finally, the ALJ found that
Hoopingarner's diagnosis of fibromyalgia did not meet the
qualifications for a medically determinable impairment under
three, the ALJ found that Hoopingarner did not have “an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.”
(ECF No. 9 at 18). At step four, the ALJ found that
Hoopingarner had the residual functional capacity to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a)
except that she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
and that she should never climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds. She could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl, but that she should avoid concentrated
exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights, dangerous
moving machinery, and wet, slippery or uneven surfaces. Given
that RFC, the ALJ determined that Hoopingarner could perform
past relevant work as a Customer Service Agent, and therefore
was not disabled.
Residual Functional Capacity
appeal, Hoopingarner argues that the ALJ's RFC
determination was not supported by substantial
evidence. She submits that the ALJ ignored evidence
showing that her depression and anxiety were severe
impairments, including various statements and notations in
her medical records and Function Reports. Hoopingarner
further contends that, even if her mental conditions are not
considered severe, the ALJ still committed error by failing
to evaluate her mental conditions in combination with her
other impairments. ...