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.

Rachel L. L. v. Saul

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

September 23, 2019

RACHEL L. L., [1] Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Rachel 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.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Although 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.

         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 community.

See Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001).

         At step 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 ...


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.