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Merrill v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 1, 2017

RONDA J. MERRILL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Ronda J. Merrill, represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of the final agency decision denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.

         Procedural History

         Ms. Merrill applied for benefits in November 2012, alleging disability beginning on October 1, 2012. After holding an evidentiary hearing, ALJ Victoria A. Ferrer issued a partially favorable decision on September 17, 2014. ALJ Ferrer denied the application for the period from October 1, 2012, to January 7, 2014, but found that plaintiff became disabled as of January 8, 2014. (Tr. 12-26). The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision subject to judicial review. (Tr. 1).

         Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed in this Court.

         Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment at Doc. 18. Her memorandum in support is located at Doc. 23, Ex. 1.

         Issues Raised by Plaintiff

         Plaintiff raises the following issues

         1. The ALJ erred in evaluating plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) in that:

(a) she failed to account for all of plaintiff's mental limitations;
(b) she erroneously determined that plaintiff's fibromyalgia was not a medically determinable impairment;
(c) she failed to give appropriate weight to the opinion of plaintiff's counselor, Kayla Schumacher; and
(d) she erred in her consideration of plaintiff's COPD.

         2. The credibility analysis was erroneous.An additional argument was set forth under Section D on page 22 of plaintiff's memorandum. She withdrew that argument in her reply brief, Doc. 34, p. 4.

         Applicable Legal Standards

         To qualify for DIB or SSI benefits, a claimant must be disabled within the meaning of the applicable statutes. In this context, “disabled” means 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.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A).[2]

         A “physical or mental impairment” is an impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity” is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities, and that is done for pay or profit. 20 C.F.R. §404.1572.

         Social Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as follows:

The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe, medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement. The third step compares the impairment to a list of impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments, then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age, education, and work experience to determine whether the applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can engage in other work, he is not disabled.

Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-569 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Stated another way, it must be determined: (1) whether the claimant is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3) whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4) whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within the economy, given his or her age, education and work experience. 20 C.F.R. ...


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