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Todd v. Colvin

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division

August 14, 2014

CHAUNCEY A. TODD, Social Security No. XXX-XX-1039, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



This action is before me, William G. Hussmann, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to Judge Barker’s order. (Filing No. 9.) Plaintiff Chauncey Todd seeks judicial review of the Social Security Administration’s final decision, which deemed him able to work and therefore ineligible for Disability Insurance Benefits or Supplemental Security Income. The matter is fully briefed. (Filing No. 22; Filing No. 27; Filing No. 28.) Being duly advised, I find no error in the Administrative Law Judge’s opinion and therefore recommend AFFIRMING his decision.

I. Background

In their briefs, the parties thoroughly recounted the facts underlying Todd’s claim and the issues presented for review. (See Filing No. 22; Filing No. 27.) I revisit them here only as necessary to address the parties’ arguments.

A. Todd’s Conditions and Work History

Todd suffered a brain injury during his birth that has produced a variety of cognitive impairments. Although Todd completed high school, it is not clear whether he satisfied all the graduation requirements, and he benefitted from special education courses and extensive tutoring beginning around the fourth grade. (Filing No. 17-2 at ECF pp. 81–83, 107–109; Filing No. 17-6 at ECF p. 3.) Todd also experiences chronic back pain due to degenerative disc disease, compression fractures in his thoracic spine, and obesity, and he recently tore and fractured parts of his left knee when he slipped in mud and fell. (See Filing No. 17-2 at ECF p. 13.)

Todd, who now is 28 years old, most recently worked for 21 months as a grocery stockman. (Filing No. 17-5 at ECF p. 32; Filing No. 17-6 at ECF p. 15.) Todd’s employer refused to accommodate his doctor’s instruction that he could work in shifts of no longer than five hours and terminated his employment in January of 2013. (Filing No. 17-2 at ECF pp. 73–74.) Previously, Todd worked for four months as a machine operator and for 34 months as a laborer at two different factories. (Filing No. 17-6 at ECF pp. 15–16.) Todd has testified that he was laid off from both jobs without any explanation. (Id.)

B. Todd’s Burden of Proof and the ALJ’s Five-Step Inquiry

In order to qualify for benefits, Todd must establish that he suffered from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. A disability is an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To establish a disability, a claimant must present medical evidence of an impairment resulting “from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, not only by [the claimant’s] statement of symptoms.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1508, 416.908.

An ALJ must perform a sequential, five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled:

(1) Was the claimant unemployed at the time of the hearing?
(2) Does the claimant suffer from a severe impairment or a severe combination of impairments?
(3) Are any of the claimant’s impairments—individually or combined—so severe that the Social Security regulations have listed them as necessarily precluding the claimant from engaging in substantial gainful activity?
(4) Does the claimant lack residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform his past relevant work?
(5) Does the claimant lack RFC to perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy?

See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).

The claimant is disabled only if the ALJ answers “yes” to all five questions. See Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000). An answer of “no” to any question ends the inquiry immediately and precludes the claimant from eligibility for benefits. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof at Steps One through Four. Id. If the claimant succeeds, the Commissioner bears the burden at Step Five of proving that the claimant is not disabled. Id.

C. The ALJ’s Findings

At Step One, the ALJ found that Todd had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (Filing No. 17-2 at ECF pp. 12-13.) At Step Two, the ALJ found that Todd was severely impaired by:

• borderline IQ and learning disability (including poor memory);
• low back degenerative disc disease;
• thoracic compression fractures;
• obesity; and
• “left knee fracture, tear”.

(Id. at ECF p. 13.) The ALJ found that Todd also was impaired—although not severely—by hypertension. (Id. at ECF p. 14.)

At Step Three, the ALJ found that none of Todd’s impairments— individually or combined—met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (Id. at ECF pp. 14-21.) The ALJ explained that he gave specific attention to Listings 12.02 (organic mental disorders) and 12.05 (mental retardation). (Id. (applying 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subp’t P, App’x 1).)

Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ found that Todd retained the RFC necessary to perform “a full range of sedentary work” with some exceptions. (Filing No. 17-2 at ECF p. 21.) The ALJ found that Todd:

• “cannot understand, remember, and carry out” job instructions that are either detailed or complex;
• cannot perform “complex or abstract work”; and
• “can seldom climb, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl.” The ALJ also found that Todd ...

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