United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
OPINION AND ORDER
William C. Lee, Judge
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).
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).
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.
present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2014.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 11, 2010, the alleged onset date (20
CFR 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
obesity, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine, spasmodic torticollis,
osteoarthritis of the knees, ankle spurs, headaches, asthma,
borderline ventricular hypertrophy, bipolar disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), personality disorder,
and depression (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 416.967(a) except never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolding, and she can no more than occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl,
bend, or twist. She must avoid concentrated exposure to lung
irritants, work hazards such as unprotected heights and
dangerous moving machinery, noise at the traffic level or
louder and sunlight. She must be provided a sit/stand option
allowing her to stand one to two minutes after sitting for 30
minutes hour [sic]. She can use her hands to handle, finger,
and feel no more than frequently, and she can reach overhead
and in all directions no more than frequently. She can
understand, remember, and carry out no more than simple
routine tasks with no public contact and no more than
occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work
(20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on December 19, 1972 and was 37
years old, which is defined as a younger individual age
18-44, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant
subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age
45-49 (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 Part 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, 404.1569a,
416.969, and 416.969a).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from December 11, 2010, through
the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and
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.
filed her opening brief on June 11, 2019. On August 15, 2019,
the defendant filed a memorandum in support of the
Commissioner's decision to which Plaintiff replied on
September 17, 2019. Upon full review of the record in this
cause, this court is of the view that the ALJ's decision
should be remanded.
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
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
filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)
and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on June 6, 2013,
alleging an onset of December 11, 2010. (AR 55; 65; 75; 76.)
On August 27, 2015, after a hearing, ALJ Janice Bruning
issued an unfavorable decision. (AR 11-32.) Plaintiff
requested Appeals Council review, which was denied November
16, 2016 (AR 1-6), making the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff then filed an
action in federal district court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c). On August 25, 2017, the
parties agreed to remand. (AR 1021-24.) After a second
hearing, ALJ Bruning issued another unfavorable ...