United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DEENA M. FULLENWIDER, on behalf of M.J. and B.J., the minor children of Brad Jones, deceased, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW
WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Deena Fullenwider requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying the applications of Brad Jones for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and 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. § 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 the 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 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.
Brad Jones protectively filed for SSI and DIB on January 25, 2011, alleging he became disabled on August 27, 2008. In his application for benefits, Jones alleged he was disabled due to back and leg pain. Jones was born on October 27, 1970, and was thirty-seven years old on the alleged disability onset date. Jones' applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Jones requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A video hearing was held in Danville, Illinois, by ALJ Victoria Ferrer, who presided over the hearing from Orland Park, Illinois, on July 12, 2012. Jones was represented by counsel at the hearing. The ALJ issued her decision denying Jones' claims on September 13, 2012. On January 7, 2014, 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. Jones then filed this timely appeal.
Jones began having significant difficulty with his back on August 27, 2008, after an injury while bending over to pull carpet. He initially sought treatment with Dr. Clifford Hornbeck on September 2, 2008, for this lower back and buttock pain. Dr. Clifford diagnosed Jones with acute chronic back pain and recommended that Jones use a back brace at work, lift no more than five pounds, and not bend or twist at the waist. On September 15, 2008, Jones underwent an MRI due to continued complaints of back pain. The MRI showed minimal disc bulge at L4-L5 with minimal compression of the L5 nerve root. Dr. Hornbeck began treatment, which included two epidural injections, in October 2008.
On November 21, 2008, Dr. John Gorup wrote a medical report in which he noted that Jones' pain had gradually worsened and had radiated into his legs. Dr. Gorup further reported that Jones had taken prescription medications, anti-inflammatories, epidural injections, physical therapy, and muscle relaxants, but they had all failed to completely resolve his pain. Dr. Gorup diagnosed Jones with internal disc disruption and disc herniation at L4-L5 and mechanical instability. Dr. Gorup also noted that Jones was a candidate for total disc replacement at L4-L5.
On January 13, 2009, Dr. Kenneth Renkens authored a medical report that indicated that Jones continued to complain of back pain and strain. He indicated that Jones had possible SI joint pain. Dr. Renkens ordered an MRI of Jones' lumbar spine on February 16, 2009, which indicated minimal spondylosis and disc dehydration. Dr. Renkens ordered physical therapy. By March 24, 2009, Dr. Renkens released Jones to work without restrictions. However, a month later Jones returned, informing Dr. Renkens that he had lost his job because he was unable to perform the work without restrictions. At this point, Dr. Renkens reported that Jones had met maximum medical improvement and placed him on a permanent partial impairment rating, restricting Jones to lifting twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds occasionally. St. Clare Neighborhood Clinic wrote a follow-up report on June 19, 2009. This report showed a diagnosis of sciatica and herniated disc and stated that Jones could do no heavy lifting.
Also on June 19, 2009, Dr. Gorup stated in a report that, upon examination, his assessment was lumbar disc degeneration and acquired spondylolisthesis. On September 9, 2009, Jones underwent treatment with Dr. Chetan Shulka, a pain management doctor. Jones indicated that he was in constant pain, and the pain worsened with sitting, standing, and walking. On September 23, 2009, and January 5, 2010, Jones underwent epidural injections.
Jones was referred to physical therapy treatment that began on August 31, 2009. Treatment was scheduled to last for eight weeks; Jones was discharged on November 3, 2009, because progress had plateaued.
Jones was examined on November 29, 2009, by Dr. James Cole for an orthopedic surgery evaluation. Dr. Cole ordered a CT scan of Jones' lumbar spine on January 11, 2010, which revealed Grade II internal disc derangement associated with bilateral posterolateral annular tears with shallow foraminal disc herniation. On February 2, 2010, Jones underwent L4-L5 decompression and fusion surgery. Upon discharge on February 4, 2010, Jones was diagnosed with lumbar spondylosis, low back pain, and degenerative lumbar disc disease. The discharge summary states that his pain was well controlled by oral narcotics. A follow-up report by Dr. Cole noted that Jones was receiving physical therapy and improving but that he had recently fallen and landed on his left leg. Since the fall, Jones had been complaining of ...