United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
JUDITH A. SELLERS, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY JUDGE
Judith A. Sellers seeks review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income
(SSI). Plaintiff alleges that she has been disabled since
August 2013 due to residual effects from left knee
replacement, chronic bilateral knee pain, arthritis, and
shortness of breath. In addition, in 2015, Plaintiff was
diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
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”); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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); §
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); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a); Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001).
at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since August 15, 2013, the
alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had the severe impairment of carpal tunnel syndrome with
history of left carpal tunnel release, de Quervain's
tenosynovitis, history of right knee meniscectomy and total
left knee replacement, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder
(COPD), irritable bowel syndrome, and obesity. The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff's medically determinable mental
impairments of anxiety and depression were non-severe because
they did not cause more than minimal limitations in
Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments.” (R. 19.) At step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) because she was able
to lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten
pounds frequently, and was able to sit, stand and/or walk for
six hours in an eight hour workday. However, the Plaintiff
would be unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds;
crouch; kneel; or crawl. She could only occasionally climb
ramps or stairs, stoop, or balance. Plaintiff had to avoid
exposure to hazards, such as moving mechanical parts and
unprotected heights or excessive vibration. Plaintiff's
exposure to pulmonary irritants like dust, fumes, and odors
was restricted to occasional exposure. Plaintiff could
frequently handle, finger, and feel bilaterally.
on the above RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to
perform her past relevant work as a cashier. Thus, he found
that she was not disabled.