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Noble v. Colvin

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

April 20, 2015

JOHN S NOBLE, Plaintiff,


MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.

John Noble ("Plaintiff") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED and REMANDED.

Procedural History and Background

Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on July 22, 2011, alleging an onset of disability on November 13, 2007. [R. at 18.] He had work experience as an industrial truck operator and vehicle parts sub-assembler, [R. at 34], and he alleged he was disabled because of depression, anxiety, and degenerative disc disease. [R. at 20.][1]

The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Plaintiff's claim initially on September 25, 2011 and upon reconsideration on November 22, 2011. [R. at 18] Plaintiff requested a hearing, and on February 27, 2013, Plaintiff appeared before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mark Ziercher. [ Id. ] Also present were Plaintiff's attorney, Melissa Davidson, and vocational expert Michael Blankenship. [R. at 42.] The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of his April 24, 2013 decision. [R. at 36.] The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 6, 2014, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision final. [R. at 5.] Plaintiff then filed his complaint with this Court on August 7, 2014.

Applicable Standard

To be eligible for DIB, a claimant must have a disability under 42 U.S.C. § 423.[2]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. § 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 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. 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). 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). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " he must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

The ALJ's Decision

The ALJ first determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2013. [R. at 20.] At step one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of November 13, 2007. [ Id. ]

At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following "severe" impairments: major depressive disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and lumbar degenerative disc disease. [ Id. ] At step three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a Listed impairment. [R. at 23-24.] The ALJ considered and rejected Listing 1.04 (Disorders of the Spine), Listing 12.04 (Affective Disorders), and Listing 12.06 (Anxiety-Related Disorders). [R. at 24.]

In considering Listings 12.04 and 12.06, the ALJ employed the SSA's special technique for evaluating mental impairments. [R. at 24-26.] He first assessed the "Paragraph B" criteria, and he determined that Plaintiff had "little" limitation on his ability to perform activities of daily living; had "some" limitations on his social function; had "moderate" difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and had no episodes of decompensation of an extended duration. [R. at 25-26.] He thus concluded that the Paragraph B criteria were not satisfied. [R. at 26.] The ALJ then considered the "Paragraph C" criteria, and found that "the medical evidence [did] not support the presence" of the criteria for either Listing 12.04 or Listing 12.06. [R. at 26.]

After step three but before step four, the ALJ analyzed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). He concluded that Plaintiff:

had the residual functional capacity to perform work at the sedentary exertional level. He can stand and/or walk for up to 30 minutes uninterrupted for up to a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and can sit for up to 30 minutes uninterrupted for up to a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He can have frequent exposure to moving mechanical parts and high, exposed places (as defined by the Selected Characteristics of Occupations). He can understand, remember, and perform simple work tasks at GED Reasoning Level 02 (as defined in the Selected Characteristics of Occupations) and can perform productive work tasks for up to an average of 98 to 100% of an 8-hour workday, not including the typical morning, lunch, and afternoon breaks. He can have frequent contact with the general public. He can perform work in which independent goal setting or planning happens no more than frequently.

[R. at 26-27.] The ALJ concluded at step four that this RFC did not allow Plaintiff to perform his past relevant work as an industrial truck operator or vehicle parts assembler. [R. at 34.] At step five, the ALJ determined that a person with Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform jobs such as telephone quote clerk, table worker, and cutter and paster. [R. at 35.] Because these jobs existed ...

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