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Palomo v. Colvin

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 3, 2015

RICARDO PALOMO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ORDER ADOPTING T HE MAGISTRATE JU DGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Hon. Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.

Plaintiff Ricardo Palomo ("Mr. Palomo"), appeals the Administrative Law Judge's decision denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d). Pursuant to 28 A. § 636, the Court referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge (Filing No. 27), who submitted his Report and Recommendation on December 18, 2014, recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be affirmed (Filing No. 28). Mr. Palomo timely filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Filing No. 29), and the Commissioner filed a response to Mr. Palomo's objections (Filing No. 30). For the reasons set forth below, the Court OVERRULES Mr. Palomo's objections and ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, AFFIRMING the decision of the Commissioner.

I. BACKGROUND

The relevant facts of this appeal are set forth in detail in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. Mr. Palomo alleges that he suffers from several impairments, including chronic depression, anxiety, arthritis, a back injury, lack of concentration, mental incoherence, and hearing loss. He filed an application for DIB in 2005. That application was denied in 2006 by the Appeals Council. He later filed a second application for DIB, which was denied in August 2009 at the hearing level. Mr. Palomo filed his third application for DIB, the application currently under review, on June 24, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of August 22, 2009. His application was initially denied on November 19, 2010, and again on reconsideration on December 2, 2010. On October 3, 2011, Administrative Law Judge William Manico ("the ALJ") held a hearing at which Mr. Palomo explained that he did not have counsel to assist him. The ALJ postponed the hearing to allow Mr. Palomo to obtain counsel. On January 11, 2012, the ALJ held a video conference hearing at which Mr. Palomo appeared with counsel. The ALJ denied Mr. Palomo's application for DIB on May 4, 2012, and the Appeals Council denied his request for review on July 26, 2013.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When the Court reviews the Commissioner'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. The Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ "need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted." Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993). However, the "ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence." Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision, and while she "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " she must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. The Court "must be able to trace the ALJ's path of reasoning" from the evidence to her conclusion. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 874 (7th Cir. 2000).

When a party raises specific objections to elements of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court reviews those elements de novo, determining for itself whether the Commissioner's decision as to those issues is supported by substantial evidence or was the result of an error of law. See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 72(b). The district court "makes the ultimate decision to adopt, reject, or modify the report and recommendation, and it need not accept any portion as binding; the court may, however, defer to those conclusions . . . to which timely objections have not been raised by a party." Sweet v. Colvin, No. 1:12-cv-439-SEB-TAB, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141893, at *3 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 30, 2013) (citing Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 759–61 (7th Cir. 2009)).

III. DISCUSSION

Instead of asserting errors in the Report and Recommendation or showing that the evidence led to the conclusion that Mr. Palomo could not perform his past sedentary work, Mr. Palomo raises objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation that essentially are the same arguments asserted by Mr. Palomo's counsel when requesting review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, Filing No. 1-2, and the same arguments asserted to this Court in Mr. Palomo's Brief in Support of Complaint, Filing No. 23. Mr. Palomo's objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation are: (1) the ALJ did not understand treatment for mental health or what constituted a "severe" impairment because the ALJ was not a medically trained professional; and (2) the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence because certain documents had been omitted or were not considered. Mr. Palomo also submits additional evidence that he failed to submit to the Court prior to the issuance of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. The Court finds no reversible error on the basis of Mr. Palomo's objections.

A. The ALJ was not medically trained.

Mr. Palomo first argues that the ALJ did not understand treatment for mental health and did not understand what constituted a "severe" impairment because he was not a medically trained professional. He argues that, because the ALJ was not a medically trained professional, the ALJ did not understand the nature of treatment and therapy for mental health impairments and thus could not accurately assess the severity of his mental impairments or their effect on his ability to work.

In his response, the Commissioner asserts correctly that the Social Security Regulations entrust the ALJ with making findings about the effect of a claimant's impairments on his ability to work by considering the medical and non-medical evidence of record, pointing to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (ALJ makes findings at step two of the sequential evaluation process), and Social Security Ruling 96-5p (issues such as whether a person's impairment is equal in severity to a Listing or his maximum residual functioning capacity ("RFC") are administrative findings reserved to the Commissioner, not medical professionals). The Commissioner also points out that the Report and Recommendation noted that any error in designating impairments "non-severe" instead of "severe" was harmless because the ALJ continued to the next steps in the sequential evaluation process and considered the impairments in the RFC assessment. The Commissioner points this Court to Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 927 (7th Cir. 2010), which explains that an ALJ's step two "determination is of no consequence with respect to the outcome of the case" when the ALJ continues to the next steps in the sequential evaluation process. Mr. Palomo asserted numerous impairments, and the ALJ proceeded to steps three and four in the sequential evaluation process and found that Mr. Palomo was able to perform his previous sedentary work. Thus, the step two determination was "of no consequence."

The ALJ considered the medical evidence that was presented, including the evidence from mental health professionals, when making his determination. This determination is left to the ALJ, and the Court will not reweigh the evidence. Mr. Palomo has the burden of proof to show that his impairments were severe and that they limited his ability to work, see Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 352 (7th Cir. 2005), but he has not pointed to any medical ...


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