United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
RACHEL L. L.,  Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
L. applied for social security disability insurance benefits,
alleging that she has been unable to work since August 1,
2012. The ALJ found that she has severe impairments of
anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and
obesity. Ms. L. argues that, in formulating her residual
functional capacity, the ALJ improperly evaluated treating
physician opinions and also erred in weighing her subjective
symptoms. Remand is required for both reasons.
Ms. L. alleges a disability onset date of August 1, 2012, she
first sought treatment on February 2, 2015, due to a distrust
of medical providers. Ms. L., who is morbidly obese, received
treatment for swollen feet and back pain. She also sought
treatment for several mental health conditions stemming from
an episode in her youth that caused post traumatic stress
disorder and anxiety. Ms. L. filed her application for
disability benefits on April 10, 2015, and her date last
insured was December 31, 2016. On June 13, 2017, the ALJ
conducted a hearing. The ALJ made the following residual
functional capacity finding in the August 21, 2017 decision:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined
in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant could have
occasionally climbed ramps and stairs, but could never have
climbed ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and could have
occasionally, balanced, stooped, knelt couched and crawled;
the claimant could have performed the tasks assigned, but not
always at a production rate pace, however she would have been
able to meet the end of day work goals; the claimant could
have had occasional contact with co-workers, supervisors, and
the general public; the claimant could have remembered and
followed simple but not detailed instructions, and could have
occasionally adapted to rapid changes in the workplace.
AR 71. The ALJ found that Ms. L. was not disabled. The
Appeals Council declined review, and Ms. L. filed this action
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision.
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
See Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th
two, an impairment is severe if it significantly limits a
claimant’s ability to do basic work activities. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1522(a). At step three, a claimant is
deemed disabled if the ALJ determines that the
claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments
meets or equals an impairment listed in the regulations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If not, the ALJ must then
assess the claimant’s residual functional capacity,
which is defined as the most a person can do despite any
physical and mental limitations that may affect what can be
done in a work setting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. The ALJ
uses the residual functional capacity to determine whether
the claimant can perform his or her past work under step four
and whether the claimant can perform other work in society at
step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). A claimant qualifies
as disabled if he or she cannot perform such work. The
claimant has the initial burden ...