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Konda D. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

October 21, 2019

KONDA D.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          William C. Lee, Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the court for judicial review of a final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as provided for in the Social Security Act. Section 205(g) of the Act provides, inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer, the [Commissioner] shall file a certified copy of the transcript of the record including the evidence upon which the findings and decision complained of are based. The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the case for a rehearing." It also provides, "[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         The law provides that an applicant for SSI must establish an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than 12 months. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3). It is not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an impairment exists. It must be shown that the impairment is severe enough to preclude the plaintiff from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Gotshaw v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840 (7th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 945 (1963); Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp. 1098 (N.D.Ill. 1979). It is well established that the burden of proving entitlement to disability insurance benefits is on the plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d 36 (7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v. Cohen, 425 F.2d 20 (7th Cir. 1970).

         Given the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this court] is whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] findings." Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial evidence is defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984) quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v. Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed, 42 U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of law." Garfield, supra at 607; see also Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).

         In the present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 28, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, headaches, morbid obesity, bilateral epicondylitis status post-surgery on the left elbow, and history of diabetes mellitus (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 41`6.967(a). The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant cannot crawl. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, crouch and kneel. The claimant cannot be exposed to moving, mechanical parts or unprotected heights. The claimant cannot be exposed to excessive vibrations. The claimant can occasionally reach above the shoulders, frequently reach down to waist level and occasionally reach down to the floor. The claimant can frequently handle objects with her hands and fingers.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on July 21, 1975 and was 38 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR apart 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from August 28, 2013, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 4165.920(g)).

(Tr. 16-28)

         Based upon these findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits. The ALJ's decision became the final agency decision when the Appeals Council denied review. This appeal followed.

         Plaintiff filed her opening brief on June 4, 2019. On August 13, 2019, the defendant filed a memorandum in support of the Commissioner's decision to which Plaintiff replied on September 10, 2019. Upon full review of the record in this cause, this court is of the view that the ALJ's decision should be remanded.

         A five step test has been established to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See Singleton v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 710, 711 (7th Cir. 1988); Bowen v. Yuckert, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2290-91 (1987). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has summarized that test as follows:

The following steps are addressed in order: (1) Is the claimant presently unemployed? (2) Is the claimant's impairment "severe"? (3) Does the impairment meet or exceed one of a list of specific impairments? (4) Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation? (5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within the economy? An affirmative answer leads either to the next step or, on steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than step 3, stops the inquiry and leads to a determination that the claimant is not disabled.

Nelson v. Bowen, 855 F.2d 503, 504 n.2 (7th Cir. 1988); Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985); accord Halvorsen v. Heckler, 743 F.2d 1221 (7th Cir. 1984). From the nature of the ALJ's decision to deny benefits, it is clear that Step 5 was the determinative inquiry.

         On May 23, 2013, Plaintiff attended an initial evaluation with Dr. Christopher Sayers at Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers related to lateral epicondylitis. (R at p.355). Dr. Sayers noted that Plaintiff sustained an injury to her left epicondyle as a result of repetitive reaching and packing of products at work, the onset of symptoms occurred 4/22/13. Id. Dr. Sayers noted that Plaintiff was unable to do frequent gripping or pinching at this time. Id. He documented “decreased flexibility bilateral forearm, wrist, and hand muscles” during the physical examination. (R at p.356).

         Plaintiff attended an appointment at South Bend Orthopedic on July 15, 2013. (R at p.343). This report indicated that Plaintiff had completed four to five sessions of physical therapy without much improvement. Id. She received a steroid injection in the left elbow, was prescribed a splint, and was referred to occupational therapy. (R at 343-344).

         On September 7, 2013, Plaintiff's glucose level was reported as 221 with a normal range of 60-99. (R at p.493).

         Plaintiff attended an appointment with Dr. Adelbert Mencias at South Bend Orthopedics on September 30, 2013. (R at p.337). It was noted that Plaintiff had been unable to work since her injury in April 2013. Id. Plaintiff received a cortisone injection in her right elbow, was referred to ...


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