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Brianna N. D. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

December 12, 2019

Brianna N. D.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, Brianna N. D. (“Ms. D.”) seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying her applications, dated June 11 and 30, 2015, for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act respectively. This Court may enter a ruling in this matter based on parties' consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”).

         I. Overview of the Case

         Ms. D. was 21 years old on August 13, 2013, the date she alleges she became disabled as the result of an injury to her left knee, history of a stroke (age two), bradycardia, left upper extremity numbness, and asthma. Following her alleged onset date, Ms. D. worked as a hydrostatic tester, a job she performed at semi-skilled medium exertion, from June 2016 through February 2017, which was substantial gainful activity. Ms. D. fell on a wet floor at Dollar General in August 2013, causing her chronic left knee pain. Ms. D. also complained of lower back pain and bilateral foot pain.

         On December 27, 2017, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found Ms. D. not to be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act (“Act”) and denied her requested DIB and SSI. On July 27, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Ms. D.'s timely request for review, making the ALJ's December 2017 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See Fast v. Barnhart, 397 F.3d 468, 470 (7th Cir. 2005). Now ripe[2] before this Court is Ms. D.'s complaint for judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Disability Standard

         In order to qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be “disabled” under Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. A person is disabled under the Act if “he or she has an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner's five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Act includes determinations as to: (1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity (“SGA”); (2) whether the claimant's impairments are severe; (3) whether any of the claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal one of the Listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work based upon her residual functional capacity (“RFC”); and (5) whether the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920; see also Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). The claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except Step Five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         III. Standard of Review

         This Court has authority to review a disability decision by the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, this Court's role in reviewing Social Security cases is limited. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). A court reviews the entire administrative record, but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts of evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). The Court must give deference to the ALJ's decision so long as it is supported by substantial evidence. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Similia v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009)). The deference for the ALJ's decision is lessened where the ALJ's findings contain errors of fact or logic or fail to apply the correct legal standard. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 709 (7th Cir. 2013).

         Additionally, an ALJ's decision cannot be affirmed if it lacks evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the issues. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). An ALJ's decision will lack sufficient evidentiary support and require remand if it is clear that the ALJ “cherry-picked” the record to support a finding of non-disability. Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Wilson v. Colvin, 48 F.Supp.3d 1140, 1147 (N.D. Ill. 2014). At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the record to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning and to be assured the ALJ has considered the important evidence in the record. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). While the ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence in the record to present the requisite “logical bridge” from the evidence to his conclusions, the ALJ must at least provide a glimpse into the reasoning behind his analysis and the decision to deny benefits. O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Thus, the question upon judicial review is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ used “the correct legal standards and the decision [was] supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th. Cir. 2007). Thus, substantial evidence is simply “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017).

         IV. Analysis

         Ms. D. challenges the ALJ's RFC determination alleging errors of law and lack of the necessary logical bridge from the evidence to the RFC. The ALJ defined Ms. ...


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