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Turner v. Colvin

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

March 31, 2015

CAROLYN COLVIN Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



Plaintiff Michael D. Turner ("Mr. Turner") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act").[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and REMANDS this case for further proceedings.


A. Procedural History

Mr. Turner filed an application for DIB on May 11, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2010. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and he requested a hearing on October 3, 2011. On August 8, 2012, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Michael Hellman (the "ALJ"). The ALJ issued a decision on September 6, 2012, finding that Mr. Turner was not disabled from his alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's decision. On January 7, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Turner's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.

B. Factual Background

Mr. Turner was 55 years old at the time of his alleged disability onset date and 57 years old on the date the ALJ rendered his decision. Mr. Turner has a high school education and relevant work history as a fork lift operator and a trailer assembler. He alleges disability due to pain and postural limitations in his neck.

Mr. Turner underwent cervical spine fusion in 2002 from C4 through C7. He claims that he has difficultly looking up and down, and that sharp turns of his head to the left or right are problematic. Mr. Turner sought treatment for his neck pain with his internist, Troy Quiz, M.D. ("Dr. Quiz") after his alleged onset date of disability. During these office visits, Mr. Turner primarily requested medication refills for his neck pain and had sporadic complaints of shoulder or other pain.

In June 2011, Mr. Turner was seen by a physician for a consultative examination. The consultative examiner noted that Mr. Turner complained of pain in his arms, hand numbness, reduced grip, and reduced ability to stand and walk. However, the examination was largely normal, with the exception of limited ranges of cervical-spine motion. Also in June 2011, nonexamining State agency physician Dr. J.V. Corcoran ("Dr. Corcoran") determined that Mr. Turner could perform a limited range of exertionally "medium" work, including a need to avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat. These findings were affirmed by non-examining State agency physician Dr. Ruiz.


Disability is defined as the "inability 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 12 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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). 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) that meets the durational requirement, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At step three, the ALJ 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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). In order to determine steps four and five, the ALJ must determine the claimant's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC"), which is the "maximum that a claimant can still do despite his mental and physical limitations." Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 675-76 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1); SSR 96-8p). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

In reviewing the ALJ's decision, this Court must uphold the ALJ's findings of fact if the findings are supported by substantial evidence 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. Further, this 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). While the Court reviews the ALJ's decision deferentially, the Court cannot uphold an ALJ's decision if the decision "fails to mention highly pertinent evidence, ... or that because of contradictions or missing premises fails to build a logical bridge between the facts of the case and the outcome." Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

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). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his acceptance or ...

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