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Loveless v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Lafayette Division.

April 10, 2015

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



Plaintiff Kevin Loveless seeks judicial review of the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny him disability insurance benefits, and asks this Court to remand the case to the agency for reconsideration. On February 22, 2013, Administrative Law Judge Mario Silva denied Plaintiff benefits, and that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review it.

For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

A. Overview of the Case

Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled in January 2011, at the age of 51, after tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder while lifting heavy objects at work. He underwent an arthroscopic repair procedure in February 2011, performed by Peter Torok, M.D. In September 2011, Dr. Torok released Plaintiff to full time work with weight lifting restrictions, and in January 2012 he filled out a physical capabilities evaluation with the same restrictions. Plaintiff's primary care physician, J.P. Cusack, M.D., provided a medical assessment in January 2013, with much more restrictive weight lifting limitations and additional postural limitations. These assessments are at the heart of Plaintiff's case, and the Court addresses other relevant facts in the analysis below.

B. Standard of Review

This Court has the authority to review Social Security Act claim decisions under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will uphold an ALJ's decision if it is reached under the correct legal standard and supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This Court will not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in the evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). This Court will, however, ensure that the ALJ built an "accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion so that, as a reviewing court, we may access the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and afford a claimant meaningful judicial review." Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002).

C. Disability Standard

To qualify for disability benefits, the claimant must establish that she suffers from a disability. A disability is an "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). The SSA established a five-step inquiry to evaluate whether a claimant qualifies for disability benefits. A successful claimant must show:

(1) he is not presently employed; (2) his impairment is severe; (3) his impairment is listed or equal to a listing in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) he is not able to perform his past relevant work; and (5) he is unable to perform any other work within the national and local economy.

Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699-700 (7th Cir. 2004).

An affirmative answer leads either to the next step or, on steps three and five, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative answer at any point other than step three stops the inquiry and leads to a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Id. The burden of proof lies with the claimant at every step except the fifth, where it shifts to the Commissioner. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

D. Analysis

Plaintiff's arguments are as follows: whether the ALJ gave appropriate weight to the opinions of treating physicians; whether the ALJ impermissibly reasoned backwards from agency boilerplate; whether the ALJ properly weighed Plaintiff's credibility concerning the limiting effects of his symptoms; and whether the ALJ ...

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