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Arnold v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

February 24, 2014

JOSEPH A. ARNOLD, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Joseph A. Arnold requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying Mr. Arnold's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Court rules as follows.

I. APPLICABLE STANDARD

Disability is defined as "the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent him from doing not only his previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy, considering his age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") he is not disabled, despite his medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). At step two, if the claimant does not have a "severe" impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities), he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve-month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

In determining whether a claimant who was found disabled continues to be disabled, the ALJ follows an eight-step process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594. In the first step, the ALJ must determine if the claimant is engaging in SGA; if so, the claimant no longer is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1). If the claimant is not engaged in SGA, step two requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. If the claimant does, his disability continues. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(2). At step three, the ALJ must determine whether medical improvement has occurred. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(3). Medical improvement is any decrease in the medical severity of the claimant's impairment(s) that were present at the time of the most recent favorable medical decision that the claimant was disabled or continued to be disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1). If medical improvement has occurred, the analysis proceeds to the fourth step. If not, the analysis proceeds to the fifth step.

At step four, the ALJ must determine whether the medical improvement is related to the ability to work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(4). If so, the analysis proceeds to step six. At step five, the ALJ must determine if an exception to medical improvement applies. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(5). There are two groups of exceptions. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1594(d), (e). If an exception from the first group applies, the analysis proceeds to the next step. If an exception from the second group applies, the claimant's disability ends. If no exception applies the claimant's disability continues.

Step six requires the ALJ to determine whether all the claimant's current impairments in combination are severe. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(6). If all current impairments in combination do not significantly limit the claimant's ability to do basic work activities, the claimant no longer is disabled. If they do, the analysis proceeds to the next step. At step seven, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") based on the current impairments and determine if he can perform past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(7). If the claimant has the capacity to perform past relevant work, his disability has ended. If not, the analysis proceeds to the last step. At the last step, the ALJ must determine whether other work exists that the claimant can perform, given his RFC and considering his age, education, and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(8). If the claimant can perform other work, he no longer is disabled. If the claimant cannot perform other work, his disability continues.

In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this court "so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred." Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, " id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his acceptance or rejection of specific evidence of disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in her decision; while he "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " he must "provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

II. BACKGROUND

Joseph Arnold protectively filed for DIB on February 6, 2009, alleging he became disabled on January 15, 2008, due to multiple physical impairments. Mr. Arnold was born on July 28, 1968, and was thirty-nine years old on the alleged disability onset date. He graduated from high school and has prior relevant work experience as an auto mechanic, carpenter, roofer, and die machine operator.

Mr. Arnold's application was denied on May 6, 2009, and upon reconsideration on May 28, 2009. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Mr. Arnold requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A video hearing, during which Mr. Arnold was represented by counsel, was held in front of ALJ John K. Kraybill on January 18, 2011. The ALJ issued his partially favorable decision on May 19, 2011, concluding that Mr. Arnold was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from January 15, 2008, through January 31, 2010. As of February 1, 2010, however, the ALJ found that Mr. Arnold could perform other work because of medical improvements. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Arnold's request for review on August 29, 2012. Mr. Arnold then filed this timely appeal.

Medical Evidence

Mr. Arnold's medical evidence begins in 2007 when he saw Dr. Ritu Madan, a rheumatologist, due to complaints of widespread pain, achiness, and muscle weakness. Dr. Madan diagnosed Mr. Arnold with fibromyalgia and chronic back and hand pain. Mr. Arnold had x-rays taken of his spine, hands, wrists, feet, and ankles on February 24, 2007. Based on these results indicating degeneration, Dr. Madan referred Mr. Arnold to Dr. Vishwajit Brahmabhatt for pain management. Dr. Brahmabhatt recommended epidural injections to ...


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