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Scherer v. Colvin

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

February 20, 2015

CHRISTOPHER J. SCHERER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.

Plaintiff Christopher Scherer applied for supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). Following a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") T. Whitaker, the ALJ determined that Mr. Scherer was disabled and thus entitled to supplemental security income. In March 2014, the Appeals Council reversed the ALJ's decision, concluding that Mr. Scherer was not disabled. The Appeals Council's decision is 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. § 416.1481. Mr. Scherer 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 Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the Commissioner's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "[The Court] need not defer, however, to conclusions of law, and if the Commissioner commits an error of law, we may reverse without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings." White ex rel. Smith v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999). Indeed, if the Commissioner commits an error of law, reversal is "required." Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2014).

The Commissioner 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) (citations omitted) (alterations in original). "If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, she will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then she must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy." Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

At issue in this case is the Commissioner's step-two decision. At Step Two, "the [Commissioner] is required to determine... whether the claimant in fact has an impairment or combination of impairments that is severe.'" Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii)). "A severe impairment is an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits [one's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.'" Id. (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). The claimant must present "evidence from acceptable medical sources to establish whether [he] ha[s] a medically determinable impairment(s)." 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(a). "In addition to evidence from the acceptable medical sources..., [the ALJ] may also use evidence from other sources to show the severity of your impairment(s) and how it affects your ability to work, " which include "[o]ther non-medical sources" such parents, caregivers, and friends. 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(d).

In this case, the ALJ issued a decision favorable to Mr. Scherer, but the Appeals Council reversed the ALJ's decision. "Because the Commissioner has delegated the authority to make final decision to the Appeals Council, reviewing courts must defer to the Appeals Council's decision." Schoenfeld v. Apfel, 237 F.3d 788, 792 n.2 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing White v. Sullivan, 965 F.2d 133, 136 (7th Cir. 1992)). "Hence, when the ALJ's decision is reversed by the Appeals Council, " as it was here, "it is the Appeal's Council decision which constitutes the Commissioner's final decision for purposes of judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)." Id. ; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.979, 404.981.

II.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Scherer was born in 1964 and has a ninth-grade education. [Filing No. 12-2 at 27.] He has past relevant work as a roofer and construction worker.[1] [Filing No. 12-2 at 26.] Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, the ALJ issued an opinion on June 24, 2013. [Filing No. 12-2 at 21-28.] The ALJ concluded that Mr. Scherer was disabled and thus entitled to supplemental security income. [Filing No. 12-2 at 21-28.]

The Appeals Council issued an opinion on March 7, 2014, reversing the ALJ's decision. [Filing No. 12-2 at 5-9.] The ...


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