United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
Marsha Y. C.,  Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
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.
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
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).
STANDARD FOR 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
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
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;
5. Whether the claimant can perform other work in the