United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DANIEL J. HALL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.
Plaintiff Daniel Hall applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on February 25, 2010. After a series of administrative proceedings and appeals, including a hearing in August 2011 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Blanca B. de la Torre, the ALJ determined that Mr. Hall was not entitled to benefits. In April 2013, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Hall's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, rendering that decision the final decision of the Defendant, Commissioner of the SSA ("the Commissioner"), for the purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Mr. Hall then filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting that the Court review the Commissioner's denial.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court's role in this action is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, "[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Because the ALJ "is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, " Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the ALJ's credibility determination "considerable deference, " overturning it only if it is "patently wrong." Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).
If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Otherwise the Court will remand the matter back to the SSA for further consideration; only in rare cases can the Court actually order an award of benefits. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005).
To evaluate a disability claim, an ALJ must use the following five-step inquiry:
(1) [is] the claimant... currently employed, (2) [does] the claimant have] a severe impairment, (3) [is] the claimant's impairment... one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling, (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, ... can [he] perform h[is] past relevant work, and (5) is the claimant... capable of performing any work in the national economy[?]
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which represents the claimant's physical and mental abilities considering all of the claimant's impairments. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform his own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e).
Mr. Hall was thirty-three years old at the time of his alleged disability onset date of March 9, 2009. [ See Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 24.] He has a high school education, [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 24], and has past work experience as an air framer, electrician, and fast-food worker, [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 23]. Mr. Hall contends he is disabled due to a variety of impairments, which will be discussed as necessary below. He was last insured for purposes of disability on June 30, 2010. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 16.]
Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, the ALJ issued an opinion on March 8, 2012. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 25.] The ALJ found as follows:
At Step One, the ALJ found that Mr. Hall did not engage in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of his disability, March 9, 2009. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 16.]
At Step Two, the ALJ found that Mr. Hall suffered from the following severe impairments: obesity, a tear of the medial meniscus in the right knee, and a partial tearing of ligaments in the right ankle. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 16.] But the ALJ found that Mr. Hall failed to demonstrate a medically determinable impairment of tinnitus or partial hearing loss. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF pp. 16-17.] And, although the ALJ found a medically determinable impairment of hypothyroidism, the ALJ found that the impairment was not severe. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 17.]
At Step Three, the ALJ found that Mr. Hall's severe impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 17.] The ALJ concluded that Mr. Hall had the RFC to perform a range of sedentary work. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF pp. 17-18.] The ALJ explained Mr. Hall's specific limitations as follows: "[H]e can lift, carry, push and pull 10 pounds occasionally and under 10 pounds frequently; sit for one hour at a time, and a total of eight hours in the workday; and stand and walk in combination for one hour at a time, and a total of two hours in combination in the workday. He cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He can occasionally balance, stoop and crouch, but should never kneel or crawl. He should not be exposed to concentrated wetness, humidity, excessive noise, any form of hazards, or slippery and uneven terrain." [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF pp. 17-18.]
At Step Four, the ALJ found that Mr. Hall is unable to perform any past relevant work as an air framer, electrician, or fast-food worker. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 23.]
At Step Five, the ALJ found that Mr. Hall could perform other jobs existing in the national economy such as general office clerk, packer, or ticket checker. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 24.]
Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Hall was not disabled and thus not entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF p. 25.] Mr. Hall sought review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF pp. 7-10.] The Appeals Council denied his request for review on April 30, 2013. [Filing No. 10-2, at ECF pp. 2-4.] Mr. Hall's appeal from that decision is now before this Court.
Mr. Hall raises three issues on appeal. [Filing No. 12, at ECF p. 7.] He argues that the ALJ (1) ignored critical evidence indicative of disability, [Filing No. 12, at ECF pp. 10-12]; (2) erroneously compared childcare to full-time work, [Filing No. 12, at ECF pp. 13-14]; and (3) failed to properly incorporate Mr. Hall's treating physician's opinion "under the full breadth of SSR 96-2p, " [Filing No. 12, at ECF pp. 15-17]. The ...