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Frazier v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

August 23, 2019

LESLIE FRAZIER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HOLLY A. BRADY JUDGE

         Plaintiff Leslie Frazier seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that she has been disabled since February 10, 2008, due to two spinal fusion surgeries, asthma, anxiety, and arthritis in her hips, rib cage, and lower back. In addition, Plaintiff asserts that she suffers from severe, chronic, and debilitating migraines several times a month.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         A 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).

         In 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)).

         Nonetheless, 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)).

         B. The ALJ's Decision

         A 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).

         If 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); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001).

         Here, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 10, 2008, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease status post-surgery, anxiety, and adjustment disorder. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of asthma, hip pain, migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome, and obesity were non-severe.

         At step 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. 18.) At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), which the regulations characterize as light work. However, she was limited to standing for two hours and sitting for six hours in an eight-hour day, could occasionally climb stairs, stoop balance, kneel, reach overhead with the bilateral extremities, crouch, and crawl. She could never climb ladders, and could only have occasional exposure to hazards, including heights and moving parts. The ALJ found that Plaintiff could “complete simple, rout[in]e tasks and with only occasional change in a routine work setting and occasional interaction with the public.” (R. 20.)

         Based on the above RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as a funeral attendant, but that she could, considering her age, education, and work experience, perform other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Thus, he found that she was not disabled.

         C. Residual Functional Capacity and Limitations in ...


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