United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Rebecca
Stiverson's (“Stiverson”) appeal of the
Social Security Administration's Decision dated March 30,
2017 (the “Decision”). Stiverson filed her
Complaint to Review Decision of Commissioner of Social
Security Administration (ECF No. 1) on May 5, 2018. Stiverson
filed her Brief in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint to
Review Decision of Commissioner of Social Security
Administration (ECF No. 14) on October 24, 2018. Defendant
Andrew Saul, Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”), filed his
Memorandum in Support of Commissioner's Decision (ECF No.
18) on December 31, 2018. This matter is now ripe for
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, she “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 [her] assessment
of the evidence to assure” the court that she
“considered the important evidence” and to enable
the court “to trace the path of her 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 Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since December 14, 2013. At step
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following
severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine, fibromyalgia, and asthma. The ALJ further found that
Plaintiff had the following non-severe impairments:
hyperlipidemia, depression, and anxiety.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have “an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20
C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).” (R. 20).
At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to:
Perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
that the claimant can occasionally climb ramps, stairs,
ladders, ropes, scaffolds, she can occasionally balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, and she should avoid
concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases and other
similar respiratory irritants.
(R. 20-21.) At step five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
could perform her past relevant work as a cashier, service
coordinator, and management trainee ...