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Curvin v. Colvin

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 11, 2015

WILLIE MAE CURVIN, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant-Appellant

Argued October 2, 2014.

Page 646

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 13-CV-00123-- J. P. Stadtmueller, Judge.

For Willie Mae Curvin, Plaintiff - Appellee: Barry Schultz, Attorney, Law Offices of Barry A. Schultz, P.C., Evanston, IL.

For CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant - Appellant: Susan M. Knepel, Attorney, Office of The United States Attorney, Milwaukee, WI; Gerard Sinzdak, Attorney, Constance Wynn, Trial Attorney, Department of Justice, Civil Division, Appellate Staff, Washington, DC.

Before FLAUM, MANION, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 647

Manion, Circuit Judge.

Willie Mae Curvin applied for disability insurance benefits. Her claim was denied initially, upon reconsideration, and after a hearing before an administrative law judge (" ALJ" ). The district court held that the ALJ erred in denying Curvin benefits and vacated and remanded the decision. We conclude that the ALJ properly applied our precedent as well as the agency rules and regulations. Because the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence, we reverse the judgment of the district court.

I. Background

In March 2010, Curvin applied for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. She alleges she became disabled beginning in January 2009 from glaucoma, overactive thyroid, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, and knee pain. The ALJ held a hearing in August 2011 at which Curvin appeared, represented by an attorney. The ALJ denied her claim by a written decision issued in October 2011.

After applying the five-step sequential evaluation process mandated by the Social Security Administration, the ALJ determined that she was not disabled and denied her claim. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). At step 1, the ALJ found that Curvin had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of her disability. At step 2, the ALJ determined that Curvin's glaucoma in her right eye was a severe impairment, and that the objective medical evidence showed that her remaining impairments were not severe. At step 3, based on the conclusions of Curvin's treating and examining physicians and the objective medical evidence, he found that Curvin did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met the severity of a listed impairment. The ALJ then determined that Curvin had a residual functional capacity (" RFC" ) to perform a full range of work at all exertion levels, but with a nonexertional limitation of no peripheral vision on her right side due to her glaucoma. The ALJ considered all the objective medical evidence, Curvin's statements regarding her abilities and disabilities, the opinions of two treating physicians, and the determinations of state agency examining physicians. He found that although Curvin's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause her alleged symptoms, her allegations regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not credible. The ALJ gave great weight to Curvin's treating ophthalmologist's assessment that her only work-related limitation was a loss of peripheral vision in her right eye that prevented her from working around machinery. He found that her remaining impairments were either mild or controlled with medication and therefore non-severe. Finally, at step 4, the ALJ found that Curvin had the RFC to perform her past work as a personal care worker, which was a medium exertional job. Thus, the ALJ found that Curvin was not disabled at step 4. Although not required at this point, the ALJ made an alternative finding at step 5 of no disability. Specifically, given her age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that Curvin could perform other jobs at the medium exertion level then-existing in the national economy.

The district court vacated the ALJ's opinion and remanded the case after concluding that the ALJ committed error at step 2 and step 3 of the process. The district court held that the ALJ ...


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