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Spivey v. Colvin

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

March 25, 2015

LESTER L. SPIVEY, SR., Plaintiff,


DEBRA McVICKER LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Lester L. Spivey, Sr. applied on June 15, 2010, for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, alleging that he has been disabled since October 7, 2008. An administrative law judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on January 4, 2012, at which Mr. Spivey appeared and testified. On March 26, 2012, acting for the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), the ALJ denied Mr. Spivey's claim, finding that he is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on August 12, 2013, rendering the ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Mr. Spivey timely filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's decision.

Standard for Proving Disability

To prove disability, a claimant must show that he is unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (DIB benefits); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI benefits).[1] Mr. Spivey is disabled if his impairments are of such severity that he is not able to perform the work he previously engaged in and, if based on his age, education, and work experience, he cannot engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). The Social Security Administration has implemented these statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

Step one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled, despite his current medical condition. Step two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, are severe; if they are not, then he is not disabled. A severe impairment is one that "significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or medically equal any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The impairment must also meet the twelve-month duration requirement. The Listing of Impairments includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has pre-determined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in severity to all the criteria for the most similar listed impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

If the claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then his residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do work on a regular and continuing basis despite his impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the RFC to perform his past relevant work, then he is not disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his age, work experience, education, and RFC; if so, then he is not disabled. The individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). The Commissioner bears the burden at step five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).

Applicable Standard of Review

Judicial review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual findings is narrow and deferential. They must be upheld "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 evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).

The ALJ is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her decision to accept or reject specific evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every piece of evidence in her decision, but she cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the conclusions she made, and she must trace the path of her reasoning and connect the evidence to her findings and conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).


I. The ALJ's Sequential Findings

Mr. Spivey was forty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's decision (R. 200, 33). He had a high school equivalency diploma and had completed training in automotive mechanics. His past work experience included work as a janitor and parts puller (R. 69).

The ALJ determined at step one that Mr. Spivey had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 7, 2008, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ identified the following severe impairments: tendinopathy of the right shoulder, obesity, schizoaffective disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning (R. 16). At step three, the ALJ evaluated Mr. Spivey's severe impairments against the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and found "the claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments." The ALJ then adopted, for purposes of steps four and five, the following RFC:

The claimant can lift, carry, push, and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit for 2 hours at one time and up to 6 hours total in an 8-hour workday; stand for 2 hours at one time and up to 6 hours total in an 8-hour workday; and walk for 2 hours at one time and up to 6 hours total in an 8-hour workday; and walk for 2 hours at a time and up to 6 hours total in an 8-hour workday. He should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; and he can frequently balance. The claimant can handle and feel constantly with both arms; reach constantly with his left arm and frequently with the right arm; finger frequently with the left hand and occasionally with the right hand; and only occasionally reach overhead with the right arm. He can understand, remember, and carry out simple, repetitive, and short instructions and he can sustain attention and concentration for 2-hour periods at a time and for 8 hours in the workday on short, simple, and repetitive tasks. He can also use judgment in making work-related decisions commensurate with that type of work and he requires ...

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