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Barrera v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 21, 2017

NANCY BERRYHILL, [1]Defendant.




         Plaintiff Veronica Barrera seeks judicial review of a final decision of defendant Nancy Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, who found that she was not “disabled” within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied review, making the administrative law judge's (ALJ's) decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         The plaintiff contends that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because (1) it is not supported by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ erred by affording little weight to certain opinions offered by one of the plaintiff's treating physicians; and (3) the ALJ incorrectly found that that the plaintiff's testimony was not entirely credible as to the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her impairments. The plaintiff asserts that this court should reverse the Commissioner's decision and award her benefits, or remand the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. For the reasons stated below, the court affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         A. Judicial Review

         When the Appeals Council denies a claimant's request for review, the ALJ's decision constitutes the final decision of the Commissioner. Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120 (7th Cir. 2014). Judicial review of an ALJ's decision under §405(g) is limited; the district court will reverse only if the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, is based on legal error, or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review. Hopgood ex rel. L.G. v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 696, 698 (7th Cir. 2009). “An ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence if the ALJ identifies supporting evidence in the record and builds a logical bridge from that evidence to the conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). If conflicting evidence in the record would allow reasonable minds to disagree about whether the claimant is disabled, the district court must affirm the ALJ's decision to deny the application for benefits. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         The district court must review the entire record, including the evidence that supports the ALJ's conclusions as well as evidence that detracts from the ALJ's conclusions, but it may not “displace the ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent credibility determinations.” Id. “While judicial review is deferential, it is not abject . . . .” Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010). The court will not affirm “an administrative decision that fails to mention highly pertinent evidence, or that because of contradictions or missing premises fails to build a logical bridge between the facts of the case and the outcome.” Id. (internal citations omitted). In sum, the district court will uphold a decision so long as the record reasonably supports it and the ALJ explains his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful review. Eichstadt v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2008).

         B. Disability Determination

         The Social Security Administration provides “disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income to persons who have a ‘disability.'” Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 22 (2003) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B)). To qualify as “disabled, ” the claimant must demonstrate a “physical or mental impairment or impairments . . . of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Id. at 21-22. The Social Security Act further

defines “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.”

Id. at 23.

         In evaluating a claim for disability benefits, the ALJ follows a five-step, sequential process, asking:

(1) Has the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset of disability?
(2) If not, does she suffer from a severe, medically determinable impairment?
(3) If so, does that impairment meet or equal any impairment listed in SSA regulations as ...

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