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Lisa M. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 23, 2019

Lisa M., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Lisa M. seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner’s decision denying her disability benefits and asks this Court to remand the case. For the reasons below, this Court remands the Administrative Law Judge’s decision.

         A. Overview of the Case

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI. In her application, Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on January 5, 2014. (R. at 31.) After a video hearing in 2016, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the left knee, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and obesity. (R. at 33.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. at 40.) The ALJ did, however, find that a number of jobs existed which Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 41.) Therefore, the ALJ found her to be not disabled from January 5, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Id.) This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (R. at 1.)

         B. Standard of Review

         This Court has authority to review the Commissioner’s decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will ensure that the ALJ built an “accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). This requires the ALJ to “confront the [plaintiff’s] evidence” and “explain why it was rejected.” Thomas v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 953, 961 (7th Cir. 2016). The Court will uphold decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Evidence is substantial if “a reasonable mind might accept [it] as adequate to support [the ALJ’s] conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).

         C. Disability Standard

         The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:

(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 can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). The claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         D. Analysis

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ committed four reversible errors: the ALJ failed to support the RFC determination with substantial evidence; the ALJ erred in the subjective symptom analysis; the Appeals Council erred finding new evidence did not relate back to the relevant time period; and the ALJ failed to properly analyze Plaintiff’s obesity.

         (1) New and Material Evidence

         Plaintiff argues that the Appeals council erred in failing to find that the new evidence did not relate back to the relevant period. The Court can only review the Appeals Council’s decision if the Council determines that the newly submitted evidence was not new and material and time-relevant, and therefore “non-qualifying under the regulation.” Stepp v. Colvin, 795 F.3d 711, 722 (7th Cir. 2015); citing Farrell v. Astrue, 692 F.3d 767, 771 (7th Cir. 2012). If the Council finds that the evidence is ...


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