United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY, JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Heidi Serna's
(“Serna”) appeal of the Social Security
Administration's Decision dated June 29, 2017 (the
“Decision”). Serna filed her Complaint to Review
Decision of Commissioner of Social Security Administration
(ECF No. 1) on March 19, 2018. Serna filed her Brief in
Support of Plaintiff's Complaint to Review Decision of
Commissioner of Social Security Administration (ECF No. 20)
on September 25, 2018. Defendant Andrew Saul, Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”), filed his Memorandum in Support
of Commissioner's Decision (ECF No. 21) on November 6,
2018. Serna filed her Reply Brief on November 21, 2018. This
matter is now ripe for determination.
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). If a person is
determined to be disabled, their continued entitlement to
disability benefits must be reviewed periodically. 20 C.F.R.
continuing disability review process is a sequential analysis
prescribed in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f). The regulations
for determining whether a claimant's disability has
ceased may involve up to eight steps in which the Commissioner
must determine (1) whether the claimant is currently engaging
in substantial gainful activity, (2) if not, whether the
disability continues because the claimant's impairments
meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment, (3)
whether there has been a medical improvement, (4) if there
has been medical improvement, whether it is related to the
claimant's ability to work, (5) if there has been no
medical improvement or if the medical improvement is not
related to the claimant's ability to work, whether any
exception to medical improvement applies, (6) if there is
medical improvement and it is shown to be related to the
claimant's ability to work, whether all of the
claimant's current impairments in combination are severe,
(7) if the current impairment or combination of impairments
is severe, whether the claimant has the residual functional
capacity to perform any of his past relevant work activity,
and (8) if the claimant is unable to do work performed in the
past, whether the claimant can perform other work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1594(f); Dixon v. Barnhart, 324 F.3d 997,
1000-01 (8th Cir. 2003).
one, the ALJ determined that Serna had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 20, 2013. At step
two, the ALJ determined that Serna did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments which meets or medically equals
the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. At step three, the ALJ found that
Serna experienced medical improvement as of February 20,
2013, and at step four the ALJ concluded that the medical
improvement related to Serna's ability to work.
six, the ALJ found that Serna had the following severe
impairments: cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease
and degenerative joint disease, radiculopathy, sacroiliitis,
cervicalgia, and migraines/headaches. At step seven, the ALJ
determined that Serna had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform less than the full range of
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). The ALJ
additionally included the following restrictions: Serna can
stand and/or walk for at least two hours during an eight-hour
workday, sit for at least six hours during an eight-hour
workday, and lift, carry, push, and pull ten pounds
frequently and occasionally throughout the workday; Serna can
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, kneel, crouch, crawl,
balance, and bend/stoop in addition to what is already
required to sit; and Serna should avoid work within close
proximity to very loud noises (level five) such as fire
alarms and very bright flashing lights such as a strobe light
on more than an occasional basis. At step eight, the ALJ
found that Serna had no past relevant work, but that she was
able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national
economy, and therefore was not disabled.
Residual Functional Capacity
appeal, Serna argues that the ALJ's RFC determination was
not supported by substantial evidence. First, Serna asserts
that the ALJ failed to consider all the impairments set forth
in her records from Dr. Roth at Summit Pain Management. (ECF
No. 30 at 9-11). The Court disagrees. The ALJ discussed Dr.
Roth's records in detail, including those findings that
were inconsistent with his determination. (See,
e.g., ECF No. 9 at 37-39). While the ALJ may not
have discussed every finding from every visit, he was not
required to. “The ALJ is not required to address every
piece of evidence or testimony presented, but must provide a
‘logical bridge' between the evidence and his
conclusions.” Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872. The
Court finds that ...