United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
RANDY L. WILSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.
Randy Wilson ("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 and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), & 1382c(a)(3). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.
Procedural History and Background
Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 28, 2011, alleging an onset of disability on August 4, 2011. [R. at 25.] He was 47 years old at the time of the alleged onset, and he had past work experience as a warehouse worker, packer, forklift operator, and machine feeder. [R. at 34.] He alleged disability due to lumbar degenerative disc disease, chronic pain syndrome, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse. [R. at 27; see also Dkt. 14 at 4 (Pl.'s Br.)]
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on December 29, 2011 and on reconsideration on February 17, 2012. [R. at 25.] Plaintiff requested a hearing, which occurred before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") James Norris on February 14, 2013. [ Id. ] Plaintiff and his attorney were present at the hearing. [R. at 43.] Also present were vocational expert ("VE") Gail Corn, medical expert Dr. Lee Fischer, M.D., and medical expert Dr. Don Olive, Ph.D. [ Id. ] The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability at any time from the alleged date of onset through the date of the ALJ's March 14, 2013 decision. [R. at 36.] The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 1, 2014, [R. at 5-10], rendering the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff filed his complaint in this Court on July 24, 2014. [Dkt. 1.]
To be eligible for SSI or DIB, a claimant must have a disability under 42 U.S.C. § 423. 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 her analysis of the evidence in her decision; while she "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " she must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning... [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. The Court, that is, "must be able to trace the ALJ's path of reasoning" from the evidence to her conclusion. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 874 (7th Cir. 2000), as amended (Dec. 13, 2000).
The ALJ's Decision
The ALJ first determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. [R. at 27.] Applying the five-step analysis, the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") since August 4, 2011, the alleged onset date. [ Id. ] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of lumbar degenerative disc disease, chronic pain syndrome, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse [ Id. ]
At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a Listed impairment. [R. at 28.] He evaluated Plaintiff's disc disease under Listing 1.04, but found that not all criteria of the Listing were satisfied. [ Id. ] He then evaluated Plaintiff's chronic pain syndrome under the criteria of Listings 1.02(A) and (B), but found that Plaintiff's functional ability exceeded the criteria of the Listing. [R. at 28-29.]
The ALJ next considered Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09. [R. at 29.] In doing so, he employed the SSA's special technique for evaluation of mental impairments. He thus considered the "Paragraph B" criteria and found that Plaintiff had "mild" restrictions in activities of daily living; "moderate" difficulties in social functioning; and "moderate" difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. [ Id. ] He also found that Plaintiff had no episodes of decompensation of extended duration, [ id. ], and he concluded that the Paragraph B criteria were not satisfied. [R. at 30.] The ALJ then turned to the "Paragraph C" criteria, but he found that the record contained insufficient evidence to establish that these criteria were satisfied. [R. at 30.]
The ALJ next analyzed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). He concluded that Plaintiff could perform:
light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) in that he can lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally, and ten pounds frequently; can stand and walk six hours of an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours of an eight-hour workday; he cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and only occasionally perform overhead work; and never work around unprotected heights. The work must be simple and repetitive and involve only minimal contact with the general public and co-workers.
[ Id. ] At step four, the ALJ concluded that this RFC did not allow Plaintiff to perform any of his past relevant work. [R. at 34.] The ALJ thus proceeded to step five, at which time he received testimony from the VE indicating that someone with Plaintiff's education, work experience, age, and RFC would be able to perform jobs such as machine operator, cleaner, and hand packager. [R. at 35.] Because these jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. [R. at 35-36.]
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ made three errors. He first contends that the ALJ's RFC assessment was based on an improper analysis of the opinions from Drs. Fischer and Midla. [Dkt. 14 at 11.] He then argues that the ALJ's hypothetical questions did not properly orient the vocational expert to all of Plaintiff's functional limitations. [ Id. at 14.] He ...