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Baker v. Colvin

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 7, 2014

JAMES D. BAKER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.


William T. Lawrence, Judge

Plaintiff James D. Baker requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Mr. Baker’s application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The Court rules as follows.


James Baker protectively filed for SSI and DIB on September 22, 2011, alleging he became disabled on January 1, 2007, due to mental and physical impairments. Mr. Baker’s application was denied initially on November 22, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on February 17, 2012. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Mr. Baker requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). A hearing, where Mr. Baker appeared pro se, was held in front of ALJ Ronald T. Jordan on May 3, 2012. The ALJ issued his decision denying Mr. Baker’s claim on July 17, 2012. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Baker’s request for review on October 16, 2012. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision, Mr. Baker filed this timely appeal.


The evidence of record is aptly set forth in Mr. Baker’s brief. Specific facts are set forth in the discussion section below where relevant.


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).[2] 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 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 his 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.


The ALJ determined at step one that Mr. Baker had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2007, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Baker has the severe impairments of “degenerative joint disease of the right shoulder, obesity, depression, dysthymia, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and polysubstance dependence in remission, ” R. at 18, but that his impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equally a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Baker had the RFC to perform light work with the following restrictions:

[H]e can lift, carry, push, and pull twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. He can stand and walk six hours in an eight-hour day. He can sit six hours in an eight-hour day. He can occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, and climb stairs and ramps. He cannot crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The work must be limited to simple, repetitive tasks requiring no independent judgment regarding work processes. Working goals from day to day must be static and predictable. He should not be required to engage with the general public and can have only occasional, superficial contact with coworkers.

Id. at 21. Given that RFC, the ALJ determined that he could not perform any of his past relevant work. Finally, at step five the ALJ determined that Mr. Baker could perform a range of light work that exists in the national ...

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