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McConnell v. Colvin

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

March 31, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


RICHARD L. YOUNG, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff, Steven McConnell, applied for Disability Insurance Benefits. His application was denied by those acting on behalf of Carolyn Colvin, the acting Commissioner of Social Security (hereinafter "Commissioner"). Plaintiff filed this action for the court to review the Commissioner's decision. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), the court referred this matter to the Magistrate Judge. The Magistrate Judge recommended that the court affirm the Administrative Law Judge. Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation. For the reasons set forth below, the court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation.

I. Background

At the age of 32, Plaintiff filed for disability in September 2010, alleging that he became disabled on August 4, 2010. On August 28, 2012, an administrate law judge ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of that decision, and Plaintiff timely filed the present action.

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: arthritic changes of the lumbar spine, bulging discs of the lumbar spine, and obesity. The ALJ did not find Plaintiff's high blood pressure and depression to be severe. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's physical impairments did not meet or equal any listing. Next, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the capacity to lift, carry, push, and pull up to 20 pounds occasionally, up to 10 pounds frequently, sit for a total of up to 6 hours per day and stand and/or walk for a total of up to 6 hours per day. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff cannot climb ramps, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but may occasionally climb ramps and stairs. Finally, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff can frequently balance, stoop, crouch, and kneel, but may only occasionally crawl, and he must avoid concentrated exposure to wetness and hazards such as heights and machinery.

With this RFC in mind and based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found no disability at Step 4, reasoning that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a furniture assembler at the light exertional level and as an offset press operator at the light exertional level. In the alternative, at Step 5, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform a number of jobs available in the national economy, such as cashier II, housekeeper and mail clerk.

Plaintiff asserts three errors in the ALJ's determination: (1) the ALJ failed to follow the treating-physician rule; (2) the ALJ erred in step two by finding Plaintiff's mental impairments to be non-severe; and (3) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility. After reviewing Plaintiff's arguments, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the ALJ should be affirmed. Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion on the above three grounds.

II. Standard

A. Review of Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

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 magistrate judge's decision as to those issues is supported by substantial evidence or was the result of an error of law. 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 and adopt those conclusions where a party did not timely object. Sweet v. Colvin, No. 1:12cv-00439-SEB-TAB, 2013 WL 5487358, *1 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 30, 2013) (quoting Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 759-761 (7th Cir. 2009)).

B. Review of the ALJ's Decision

In reviewing the Commissioner's factual findings, courts are deferential; if his findings are supported by substantial evidence, then courts must affirm. See Skarbek v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d 500, 503 (7th Cir. 2004); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Although a mere scintilla of proof will not suffice to uphold an ALJ's findings, the substantial evidence standard requires no more than such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Blakes v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 568 (7th Cir. 2003). In other words, substantial evidence is more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance of the evidence. See Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ is obligated "to consider all relevant medical evidence and cannot simply cherry-pick facts that support a finding of non-disability while ignoring evidence that points to a disability finding." Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). An ALJ is not required to discuss every piece of evidence, but if the decision lacks an adequate discussion of the issues, the court will remand it. See Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 306 (7th Cir. 2010). An adequate discussion ensures that the ALJ built a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion. Denton, 596 F.3d at 425.

III. Discussion

A. The ...

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