United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION
JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.
Plaintiff Lenell Jordan applied for disability insurance benefits from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on March 23, 2011. After a series of administrative proceedings and appeals, including a hearing in July 2012 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Angela Miranda, the ALJ determined that Mr. Jordan was not entitled to disability insurance benefits. In September 2013, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Jordan's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, rendering that decision the final decision of the Defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner"), for the purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Mr. Jordan then filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting that the Court review the Commissioner's denial.
I. 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. (quotation 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) (quotations omitted).
The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:
(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted) (alterations in original). "An affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps Three and Five, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than Step Three, ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not disabled." Id.
After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's RFC by evaluating all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling. Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform her 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), (g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.
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. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits "is appropriate only where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion." Id. (citation omitted).
Mr. Jordan was fifty-two years old on the alleged onset date of his disability, March 3, 2011. [Filing No. 7-2 at 19.] He has a four-year degree in theology and past relevant work as a heavy equipment mover. [Filing No. 7-2 at 19; Filing No. 7-2 at 40.] Mr. Jordan suffers from spine and right shoulder impairments, which will be discussed as necessary below. He meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015. [Filing No. 7-2 at 13.]
Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, the ALJ issued an opinion on August 31, 2012. [Filing No. 7-2 at 11-20.] The ALJ found as follows:
At Step One, the ALJ found that Mr. Jordan did not engage in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of his disability, March 3, 2011. [Filing No. 7-2 at 13.]
At Step Two, the ALJ found that Mr. Jordan suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical spine dysfunction; lumbar spine dysfunction; and right shoulder dysfunction. However, the ALJ found that Mr. Jordan's obesity was non-severe. [Filing No. 7-2 at 13-14.]
At Step Three, the ALJ found that Mr. Jordan did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. Specifically, the ALJ concluded that neither Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) nor Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine) were met. [Filing No.7-2 at 14.] The ALJ also determined that Mr. Jordan had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. [Filing No. 7-2 at 15.]
At Step Four, the ALJ found that Mr. Jordan was unable to perform his past relevant work as a heavy machine operator. [Filing No. 7-2 at 18-19.]
At Step Five, the ALJ found that Mr. Jordan could perform other jobs existing in the national economy such as an ...