Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Marsha Y. C. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 16, 2019

Marsha Y. C., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Marsha C. applied for social security benefits, claiming that she was unable to work. Her doctors gave differing opinions as to her functional capacity, and in finding Ms. C. able to work, the administrative law judge adopted the opinions of one doctor over the opinions of others. The ALJ failed to acknowledge, though, that even that one doctor's opinions were more restrictive than the limitations the ALJ adopted. In other words, despite purporting to give controlling weight to that doctor's opinions, the ALJ either ignored or failed to recognize parts of that doctor's opinions that would have required more restrictive limitations. That oversight requires remand.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Ms. C. suffers from degenerative disc disease in her back, as well as coronary artery disease. She sought treatment from a spinal surgeon and pain management specialist to address her back conditions and the accompanying pain, and she underwent multiple fusion surgeries. She also sought treatment from a cardiologist. For a time, Ms. C. was able to work despite her limitations in a job that was mostly sedentary, but she had difficulty doing so. She eventually stopped working and applied for social security benefits, claiming that she was no longer able to work. An ALJ found that she had severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine and coronary artery disease. But the ALJ also found that she retained the ability to perform light work, subject to some postural and environmental limitations. Based on that finding as to Ms. C.'s residual functional capacity, the ALJ concluded that Ms. C. could no longer perform her old work but could perform other jobs. He thus found that she did not qualify as disabled. After the Appeals Council denied review, Ms. C. filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Even if “reasonable minds could differ” about the disability status of the claimant, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The ALJ has the duty to weigh the evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400. In evaluating the ALJ's decision, the Court considers the entire administrative record but does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of evidence that is contrary to his or her findings. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ must provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).

         III. STANDARD FOR DISABILITY

         Disability benefits are available only to those individuals who can establish disability under the terms of the Social Security Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998). Specifically, the claimant must be unable “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). The Social Security regulations create a five-step process to determine whether the claimant qualifies as disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the following order:

1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one listed in the regulations;
4. Whether the claimant can still perform relevant past work; and
5. Whether the claimant can perform other work in the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.