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Heather J. v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 24, 2019

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

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF’S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF APPEAL

          Tim A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff appeals the Social Security Administration’s denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff challenges the ALJ’s analysis, arguing that the ALJ’s evaluation of her subjective symptoms was inadequate and that the ALJ failed to properly address Plaintiff’s moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace. Plaintiff essentially asks the Court to reweigh and re-analyze the evidence, which this Court does not do. As explained in more detail below, the ALJ’s credibility assessment was not patently wrong, and the ALJ’s decision was thorough, well-reasoned, and supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s request for remand is denied.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Social Security Administration denied her claims initially and upon reconsideration. After a hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         The ALJ considered Plaintiff’s claim for benefits according to 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). The ALJ determined at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since applying for disability. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mood disorder/depression/bipolar; generalized anxiety disorder; borderline personality disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder; and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The ALJ noted that these impairments significantly limit the ability to perform basic work activities as required by SSR 85-28. The ALJ also referenced Plaintiff’s complaints of back and neck issues but found the record failed to demonstrate a severe medically determinable physical impairment. The ALJ gave great weight to the consultative examiner’s opinion that Plaintiff had no work-related functional limitations.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or a combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Before reaching step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had “the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: unskilled, routine, repetitive tasks with brief superficial interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public.” [Filing No. 7-2, at ECF p. 17.]

         Next, at step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. Finally, after taking into consideration Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found at step five that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including house cleaner, router, and marker. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff raises several challenges to the ALJ’s analysis, claiming it was “riddled with error” and failed to properly address certain limitations. [Filing No. 11, at ECF p. 4.] The Court reviews an ALJ’s decision and will uphold it “if the correct legal standards were applied and supported with substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Burmester v. Berryhill, 920 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 2019) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The Court’s “review is deferential; we will not reweigh the evidence or substitute our judgment for that of the ALJ.” Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017).

         a. Evaluation of Plaintiff’s subjective symptoms

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ’s evaluation of her subjective symptoms was inadequate and failed to account for the severity of her symptoms. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that while the ALJ adequately listed each section of consideration required under SSR 16-3p, “some of her explanations and justifications within these sections are erroneous.” [Filing No. 11, at ECF p. 21.] Furthermore, Plaintiff claims the ALJ demonstrated a lack of understanding of Plaintiff’s severe mental impairments. This argument is unpersuasive.

         As noted above, at step two, the ALJ listed Plaintiff’s severe mental impairments, including depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. [Filing No. 7-2, at ECF p. 13.] The ALJ recognized that these mental impairments significantly limit the ability to perform basic work activities, but ultimately found that the record evidence did not support Plaintiff’s subjective claims regarding their debilitating impact. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels except she could only perform unskilled, routine, repetitive tasks and have brief interactions with supervisors, coworkers, and the public.

         In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ cited Plaintiff’s testimony describing her symptoms, including that she could not stand being around other people, hated to drive, and had problems with memory and concentration. [Filing No. 7-2, at ECF p. 17-18.] However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record[.]” [Filing No. 7-2, at ECF p. 18.] “So long as an ALJ gives specific reasons supported by the record, we will not overturn his credibility determination unless it is patently wrong.” Curvin v. Colvin,778 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2015). See alsoCraft v. Astrue,539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008) (“An ALJ is in the ...


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