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Stevenson v. Colvin

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

September 17, 2014

CARLTON STEVENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Carlton Stevenson requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant denying Mr. Stevenson's application for Supplemental Social Security Income ("SSI") under Title 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

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 he "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " he must "provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Mr. Stevenson filed an application for SSI on December 2, 2009, alleging disability beginning February 1, 2003, due to encephalitis, a non-traumatic brain injury, seizures, and emotional stress and addiction issues. His application was initially denied on June 28, 2010, and again upon reconsideration on December 13, 2010. He requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A video hearing was held by ALJ Dennis R. Kramer on March 14, 2012. The ALJ presided over the hearing from Valparaiso, Indiana. Mr. Stevenson testified via telephone from the Putnamville Correctional Facility. His attorney participated in the hearing from Danville, Illinois. Two experts, Richard T. Fisher, a vocational expert ("VE"), and Dr. Larry Kravitz, Ph.D., a psychological expert, appeared and testified at the hearing. Dr. William C. Houser, a medical expert, testified via telephone. At the hearing, Mr. Stevenson, through his attorney, amended the alleged onset date of disability to December 2, 2009, the date his application was filed. R. at 80.

ALJ Kramer issued his decision denying Mr. Stevenson's request for benefits on March 30, 2012. On May 20, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner and subject to judicial review. Mr. Stevenson then filed this timely appeal.

III. EVIDENCE OF RECORD

The evidence of record is aptly set forth in the parties' briefs and need not be recited here. Specific facts are set forth in the discussion section below where relevant.

IV. THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ determined at step one that Mr. Stevenson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 2, 2009, the amended alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Stevenson had the following severe impairments: a seizure disorder, post traumatic headaches, a history of deep vein thrombosis in his right upper extremity, encephalopathy, an affective disorder, an antisocial personality disorder, an amnestic disorder, and a psychosis not otherwise specified. Id. at 23. The ALJ did not find that his impairments, singly or in combination, met or medically equaled a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Stevenson had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work with the following restrictions:

Occasionally lift and/or carry 11 to 20 pounds and frequently lift and/or carry up to 10 pounds. He can sit for two hours, stand for two hours, or walk for two hours at one time without interruption. The claimant can sit for eight hours, stand for six hours, or walk for six hours total in an eight-hour workday. He can continuously reach overhead, reach in all other directions, handle, finger, feel, or push/pull with his left hand. The claimant can occasionally reach overhead, reach in all other directions, or push/pull with his right dominant hand, but he can continuously handle, finger, or feel with his right hand. He can continuously operate foot controls with his feet bilaterally. The claimant can never climb ladders or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The claimant can never have exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, or operating a motor vehicle. He can have continuous exposure to humidity and wetness; dusts, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants; extreme cold; extreme heat; or vibrations. The claimant can tolerate exposure to very loud noise. He can perform activities like shopping. The claimant can travel without a companion for assistance such as for public transportation but not for driving. He can ambulate without using a wheelchair, walker, or two canes or two crutches. The claimant can walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces. He can use standard public transportation. The claimant can climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail. He can prepare a simple meal and feed himself. The claimant can care for his personal hygiene. He can sort, handle, or use paper/files. The claimant has mild restriction in his ability to understand and remember simple instructions and mild restriction in his ability to carry out simple instructions. He has moderate restriction in his ability to make judgments on simple work-related decisions. The claimant has marked restriction in his ability to understand and remember complex instructions, carry out complex instructions, and make judgments on complex work-related decisions. He has moderate restriction in his ability to interact ...

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