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Gilmer v. Colvin

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

April 28, 2015

Shawn L. Gilmer, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION

Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge

Plaintiff Shawn Gilmer applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). Following a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Monica LaPolt in February 2013, the ALJ determined that Mr. Gilmer was not disabled and thus not entitled to benefits. In May 2014, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Gilmer’s request for review of the ALJ’s decision, rendering that decision the final decision of the Defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”), for the purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Mr. Gilmer then filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting that the Court review the Commissioner’s denial.

I.

Standard of Review

The Court’s role in this action is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ’s decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, “[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). Because the ALJ “is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, ” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the ALJ’s credibility determination “considerable deference, ” overturning it only if it is “patently wrong.” Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform [his] past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.

Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted) (alterations in original). “If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, she will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then she must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.” Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) by evaluating all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling. Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform his own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e), (g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ’s decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits “is appropriate only where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).

II.

Background

Mr. Gilmer was born in 1965 and has an eleventh-grade education. [Filing No. 12-2 at 24.] He has past relevant work as an over the road truck driver and a dump truck driver. [1] [Filing No. 12-2 at 23-24.] Mr. Gilmer meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013. [Filing No. 12-2 at 14.] Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, the ALJ issued an opinion on March 28, 2013. [Filing No. 12-2 at 12-25.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One, the ALJ found that Mr. Gilmer did not engage in substantial gainful activity[2] since the alleged onset date of his disability, ...

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