United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
LARRY S. SMITH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Larry S. Smith requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying Mr. Smith's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Having reviewed the record and the parties' briefs, the Court now 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). 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 his 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 his analysis of the evidence in his 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.
Larry S. Smith protectively filed for SSI and DIB on April 13, 2011, alleging he became disabled on January 15, 2011, primarily due to coronary artery disease with venous thrombosis and obesity. Mr. Smith has prior relevant work experience as a master assembler.
Mr. Smith's application was denied initially on May 24, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on July 29, 2011. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Mr. Smith requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A video hearing, during which Mr. Smith was represented by counsel, was held in front of ALJ Gregory M. Hamel on February 9, 2012. The ALJ issued his decision denying Mr. Smith's claim on March 27, 2012. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Smith's request for review on June 8, 2013. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, Mr. Smith filed this timely appeal.
A. Medical Evidence
The medical evidence of record is aptly set forth in Mr. Smith's brief. Specific pieces of evidence are set forth in the discussion section where relevant.
B. Hearing Testimony
At the hearing, Mr. Smith testified that he was unable to work due to his back pain and heart condition. He testified that he lived with his wife and six-year-old son and predominantly relied on his wife to take care of the various domestic responsibilities. He noted that while he had a valid driver's license, he did not drive but maybe once or twice per month to get to doctor's appointments. He also testified that he watched television much of the day and did not listen to music or talk to other people.
The ALJ heard testimony from the Vocational Expert ("VE"), Dian Haller. The ALJ asked the VE to consider a hypothetical individual with Mr. Smith's age, education and work experience who could work with the following restrictions: working with less than excessive amounts of pulmonary irritants; working in a position that requires only occasional stair climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; and working in a nonhazardous environment (e.g., not at heights or around dangerous ...