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Downs v. Colvin

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

June 4, 2014

CHRISTOPHER T. DOWNS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher T. Downs requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant denying Mr. Downs' 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.

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 he is not disabled, despite his medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).[1] 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 her 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 her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " she must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

II. BACKGROUND

Christopher Downs filed for SSI and DIB on December 29, 2008, alleging he became disabled on January 1, 1996. In his application for benefits, Mr. Downs alleged that he was disabled because of chronic back pain, ADHD, and depression. Mr. Downs' application was denied initially on March 16, 2009, and again upon reconsideration on May 12, 2009. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Mr. Downs requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A video hearing, during which Mr. Downs was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ Janice M. Bruning on March 14, 2011. The ALJ presided over the hearing from Oak Brook, Illinois. Mr. Downs appeared in Indianapolis, Indiana. The ALJ issued her decision denying Mr. Downs' claim on June 14, 2011.

The Appeals Council denied Mr. Downs' request for review on April 30, 2013, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner and subject to judicial review.

Medical Evidence

Mr. Downs' medical evidence begins on October 26, 2004, when an MRI of the lumbar spine was performed. It showed early changes of disc dessication in one part of the spine and mild facet degenerative changes, ligamentum flavum thickening, and a minimal disc bulge in another part of the spine.

On January 10, 2005, Mr. Downs went to Wagoner Medical Center with complaints of depression. He was diagnosed with depression, an adjustment disorder, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and low back pain. He was prescribed Prozac. At this exam, his weight was 244.8 pounds. On February 21, 2005, he again was diagnosed with depression. At this exam, his weight was 249.4 pounds. On June 26, 2007, lumbosacral x-rays showed scoliosis and evidence of facet joint arthritis.

Between June 25, 2007, and November 27, 2007, Mr. Downs went to Wagoner Medical Center approximately once every four to six weeks with complaints of low back pain and asthma. It was noted that his height was 74 inches and his weight ranged between 246.9 and 256 pounds. He was diagnosed with asthma/COPD, acute low back pain, and lumbago. Following a pulmonary function test, Dr. Marius Nefliu concluded that Mr. Downs had mild to moderate obstructive respiratory defect and hyperinflation.

On January 3, 2008, Mr. Downs went to the emergency room with moderate to severe pain in his right elbow. He was found to have tenderness, swelling, and limited active range of motion in the upper ...


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