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Gwandel B. v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 3, 2019

GWANDEL B. Plaintiff,


          Mark J. Dinsmore United States Magistrate Judge.

         Claimant Gwandel B. requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382(a)(3)(A). For the reasons set forth below, the Court REVERSES and REMANDS the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. Background

         Claimant filed an application for DIB and SSI on February 26, 2015, alleging an onset of disability on August 28, 2014. [Dkt. 5-2 at 16.] Claimant alleges disability due to problems with high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, nerve damage in her eyes and feet, and acid reflux.[1] [Dkt. 9 at 5.] Claimant's claim was initially denied on May 20, 2015, and again on September 1, 2015, upon reconsideration. [Dkt. 5-4 at 2, 14.] Claimant filed a timely written request for a hearing on October 2, 2015. [Dkt. 5-4 at 28.]

         A hearing was held on June 13, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge Jody H. Odell (“ALJ”). [Dkt. 5-2 at 33.] The ALJ issued a decision on October 27, 2017, concluding that Claimant was not entitled to receive DIB or SSI. [Dkt. 5-2 at 16-28.] On October 11, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 5-2 at 2-4.] On December 10, 2018, Claimant filed a timely Complaint with this Court asking the Court to review the denial of benefits according to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. 1383(c). [See Dkt. 1.]

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB or SSI, a claimant must have a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.[2] Disability is defined 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. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner, as represented by the ALJ, employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities, she is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. p. 404, subpart P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and she is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and cannot perform her past relevant work but she can perform certain other available work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Before continuing to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC) by evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that were not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2007). This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgement for that of the ALJ, but may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000)); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). When an applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004). For the purpose of judicial review, “[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.While the ALJ must base her decision on all of the relevant evidence, Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994), and must “provide some glimpse into [her] reasoning” to “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion, ” she need not “address every piece of evidence or testimony.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 28, 2014, the alleged onset date. [Dkt. 5-2 at 19.] At step two, the ALJ determined that Claimant had severe “obesity, diabetes with neuropathy, depression/anxiety.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 19.] While the medical evidence includes a history of other medically determinable impairments, including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, vision issues, and acid reflux, the ALJ found that these impairments did not significantly limit Claimant's ability to perform basic work activities, and therefore classified them as non-severe. [Dkt. 5-2 at 19.] The ALJ properly considered these non-severe impairments when determining Claimant's residual functional capacity. [Dkt. 5-2 at 19.]

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Dkt. 5-2 at 19.] In making this determination, the ALJ considered Claimant's diabetes under Listing 9.00B5. [Dkt. 5-2 at 19.] While Claimant had abnormal glucose levels during the period at issue, the ALJ found that there was “no evidence of complications from diabetic ketoacidosis treatment, chronic hyperglycemia, or episodes of hypoglycemia. In fact, this condition has improved with treatment during periods of compliance.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 19-20.] The ALJ considered Claimant's neuropathy under Listing 11.14. [Dkt. 5-2 at 20.] However, the ALJ found that the evidence “does not show disorganization of motor functions in two extremities, resulting in an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or use the upper extremities.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 20.] Next, the ALJ considered Claimant's obesity, for which there is no listing, but found that Claimant's obesity did not meet or medically equal any of the other listed impairments.

         The ALJ then considered Claimant's mental impairments under Listings 12.04 and 12.06. [Dkt. 5-2 at 20.] In concluding that Claimant did not meet the listing requirements, the ALJ considered the “paragraph B” criteria. The ALJ concluded that Claimant had a mild limitation in interacting with others, and no limitation in adapting or managing herself. [Dkt. 5-2 at 20-1.] The ALJ looked to Claimant's own reports of regularly spending time with others and getting along with authority figures, and the fact that she could attend to her own personal care independently. [Dkt. 5-2 at 20-1.]

         With regard to Claimant's understanding, remembering, or applying information, the ALJ found Claimant to have a moderate limitation. [Dkt. 5-2 at 20.] While Claimant is generally able to follow instructions, she often has difficulties with her memory and forgets things even after marking them on her calendar. [Dkt. 5-2 at 48.] The ALJ also found moderate limitations with respect to Claimant's concentration, persistence, or pace. [Dkt. 5-2 at 21.] In finding these moderate limitations, the ALJ considered Claimant's own statements of being unable to finish tasks she starts. However, Claimant did not indicate any diminished attention span. [Dkt. 5-2 at 21.] Because the ALJ found that Claimant's mental impairments ...

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