United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Michelle Kathleen
Wolf’s (“Wolf”) Brief in Support of
Plaintiff’s Complaint to Review Decision of
Commissioner of Social Security Administration (the
“Wolf Brief”) filed on December 18, 2018. (ECF
No. 14). Defendant Andrew Saul, Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (the “Commissioner”)
filed his Memorandum in Support of Commissioner’s
Decision (the “Commissioner Brief”) on February
25, 2019. (ECF No. 20). Wolf filed no reply. This matter is
now ripe for determination.
November 7, 2014, Wolf filed an application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
A hearing was held before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) on November 30, 2016. On May 26, 2017,
the ALJ entered his Decision determining that Wolf was not
timely filed her Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order
with the Appeals Council on July 21, 2017. The Appeals
Council denied Wolf’s appeal on February 22, 2018. Wolf
then filed her Complaint to Review Decision of Commissioner
of Social Security Administration with this Court on April
23, 2018. (ECF No. 1).
Standard of Review
claimant who is found to be “not disabled” may
challenge the Commissioner’s final decision in federal
court. This Court must affirm the ALJ’s decision if it
is supported by substantial evidence and free from legal
error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Steele v. Barnhart,
290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla of proof.” Kepple
v. Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001). It
means “evidence a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support the decision.” Murphy v.
Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2007); see also
Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995)
(substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation and quotations omitted).
determining whether there is substantial evidence, the Court
reviews the entire record. Kepple, 268 F.3d at 516.
However, review is deferential. Skinner v. Astrue,
478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). A reviewing court will not
“reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions
of credibility, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of
the Commissioner.” Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d
535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000)).
if, after a “critical review of the evidence, ”
the ALJ’s decision “lacks evidentiary support or
an adequate discussion of the issues, ” this Court will
not affirm it. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539 (citations
omitted). While the ALJ need not discuss every piece of
evidence in the record, he “must build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion.”
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir.
2001). Further, the ALJ “may not select and discuss
only that evidence that favors his ultimate conclusion,
” Diaz, 55 F.3d at 308, but “must
confront the evidence that does not support his conclusion
and explain why it was rejected, ” Indoranto v.
Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th Cir. 2004). Ultimately,
the ALJ must “sufficiently articulate his assessment of
the evidence to assure” the court that he
“considered the important evidence” and to enable
the court “to trace the path of [his] reasoning.”
Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir.
1993) (quoting Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284,
287 (7th Cir. 1985) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
The ALJ’s Decision
person suffering from a disability that renders her unable to
work may apply to the Social Security Administration for
disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A) (defining disability as the “inability 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”). To be found disabled, a claimant must
demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent
her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other
kind of gainful employment that exists in the national
economy, considering her age, education, and work experience.
claimant’s application is denied initially and on
reconsideration, she may request a hearing before an ALJ.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(b)(1). An ALJ conducts a
five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny
benefits: (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 has
the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant
work, and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing
any work in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001).
one, the ALJ found that Wolf had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since September 15, 2014. At step two, the
ALJ found that Wolf had the following severe impairments:
fibromyalgia, mild lumbar facet degenerative changes,
migraines/headaches, and obesity. ...