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Ignowski v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

August 28, 2014

JAN DAVID IGNOWSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL R. CHERRY, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Jan David Ignowski on November 8, 2012, and a Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of [His] Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 18], filed by Plaintiff on September 20, 2013. Plaintiff requests that the June 30, 2011 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying his claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") be reversed and remanded for further proceedings. On December 19, 2013, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on January 23, 2014. For the following reasons, the Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff had knee surgery in 2007. Two months after the surgery, he presented to the emergency room twice on the same day for seizure activity. He had a seizure at work in November 2008, and, as a result, Plaintiff lost his job in March 2009. In June 2009, Plaintiff had complaints of dizziness and disorientation while driving. In 2009, Plaintiff began to suffer from depression, much of which was related to his seizure disorder and his inability to find work and provide for his family. Plaintiff's work history was as a machine operator for twenty-two years. Plaintiff reported nighttime seizures in January 2011 and ongoing depression.

On September 10, 2009, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging an onset date of August 10, 2009, based on complaints of seizures, a sleeping disorder, and depression. The applications were denied initially on November 9, 2009, and upon reconsideration on June 9, 2010. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held on June 15, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Patricia Witkowski Supergan. In appearance were Plaintiff, his wife Dawn Morgan, his attorney Christopher Boudi, and vocational expert Randall L. Harding. The ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits on June 30, 2011. She made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 10, 2009, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq. ).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, substance abuse disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD") and sleep disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes or scaffolds.
The claimant can frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, but must avoid all exposure to hazards such as moving machinery or unprotected heights. The claimant is limited to simple, repetitive and routine work tasks.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born [in 1965] and was 43 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963). in English (20 FR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 404.1568 and 416.968).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 405, 1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from August 10, 2009, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(AR 22-36).

On September 12, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. On November 8, 2012, Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the Agency's decision.

The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final decision of the agency and indicates that the Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003)).

A court reviews the entire administrative record but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ "uses the correct legal standards and the decision is supported by substantial evidence." Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). "[I]f the Commissioner commits an error of law, " the Court may reverse the decision "without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings." White v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997)).

At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of her reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d 96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ must "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion' so that, as a reviewing court, we may assess the validity of the agency's final decision and afford [a claimant] meaningful review." Giles v. Astrue, 483 F.3d 483, 487 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Scott, 297 F.3d at 595)); see also O'Connor-Spinner, 627 F.3d at 618 ("An ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence, but must provide a logical bridge' between the evidence and [the ALJ's] conclusions."); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001) ("[T]he ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [the] decision to deny benefits.").

DISABILITY STANDARD

To be eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must establish that he suffers from a "disability" as defined by the Social Security Act and regulations. The Act defines "disability" as an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). To be found disabled, the claimant's impairment must not only prevent him from doing his previous work, but considering his age, education, and work experience, it must also prevent him from engaging in any ...


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