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Butler v. Colvin

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

May 11, 2015

RONDA D. BUTLER substituted party for James D. Butler (deceased), Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.

Ronda D. Butler ("Ms. Butler" or "Plaintiff"), for the deceased James D. Butler ("Mr. Butler"), requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Mr. Butler's 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

Mr. Butler filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 10, 2008, alleging an onset of disability on September 1, 2008. [R. at 131-133.] He was 49 years old at the time of the alleged onset and had past relevant work in the masonry industry. [R. at 143.] He alleged disability due to anxiety, back pain, hand pain, obesity, and respiratory difficulties.[1] [R. at 140.] The applications were denied initially on March 23, 2009 and upon reconsideration on December 28, 2009. [R. at 138.] Mr. Butler requested a hearing, which occurred before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Allyn Brooks on August 16, 2011. [ Id. ] At the hearing, Mr. Butler amended his alleged onset date to June 17, 2009 to correspond to Mr. Butler's fiftieth birthday. [R. at 102.] The ALJ determined that Mr. Butler had not been under a disability at any time from the alleged date of onset through the date of the ALJ's September 20, 2011 decision. [R. at 144.]

Mr. Butler died on December 2, 2011. [R. at 11.] On November 2012, however, the Appeals Council granted Mr. Butler's request for review and remanded Mr. Butler's case. [R. at 151.] The Council ordered the ALJ receiving the case to complete the administrative record, give further consideration to Mr. Butler's maximum residual functional capacity ("RFC"), and, if necessary, obtain evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect that Mr. Butler's assessed limitations had on his occupational base. [R. at 11.]

In accordance with the Council's order, ALJ John H. Metz conducted a hearing on April 17, 2013. [R. at 11.] By that time, Mr. Butler's widow-Ms. Butler-had submitted the proper documentation to be substituted as a party for Mr. Butler. [ Id. ] Ms. Butler thus appeared before ALJ Metz and testified at the hearing. [ Id. ] Also present were medical expert Paul Boyce, M.D., medical expert James Brooks, Ph.D., vocational expert Gail Corn, and Plaintiff's attorney, Andrew Sheff. [R. at 11.]

ALJ Metz determined that Mr. Butler had not been under a disability at any time from October 10, 2008 through the date of the ALJ's May 28, 2013 decision. [R. at 22.] The Appeals Council denied Ms. Butler's request for review, [R. at 1-6], rendering the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff then timely filed her complaint in this Court. [Dkt. 1.]

Applicable Standard

To be eligible for SSI or 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 twelvemonth 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[3]

At step one of the five-step sequential analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Butler had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") during the relevant time period. [R. at 13.] The ALJ then proceeded to step two and determined that Mr. Butler suffered from the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, intermittent explosive disorder ("IED"), anxiety disorder, polysubstance abuse, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder ("COPD"), degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis of the left shoulder, and obesity. [ 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 specifically considered Listing 1.02 and Listing 1.04 to account for Mr. Butler's musculoskeletal impairments and Listing 3.02 to account for Mr. Butler's COPD. [R. at 14.] He also assessed the effects of Mr. Butler's obesity on these impairments in accordance with Social Security Rule ("SSR") 02-1p. [ Id. ]

The ALJ then considered Mr. Butler's mental impairments under Listings 12.04, 12.08, and 12.09. [R. at 14-15.] 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 Mr. Butler had "mild" restrictions in activities of daily living; "moderate" difficulties in social functioning; and "mild" difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. [ Id. ] He also found that Mr. Butler had no episodes of decompensation of extended duration, [ id. ], and he concluded that the Paragraph B criteria were not satisfied. [R. at 15.] 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. [ Id. ]

The ALJ next analyzed Mr. Butler's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). He concluded that Mr. Butler would have been able to perform:

light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant's work must not have required walking more than 15 minutes at a time or more than four (4) hours total during an eight (8) hour workday. In addition, the claimant's work may not have required more than frequent pulling, pushing (at light exertional weight limits) and no more than occasional bending, stopping, kneeling and climbing stairs and ramps. Further, the claimant's work may not have required any climbing [of] ropes, ladders and scaffolds or any exposure to unprotected heights or moving machinery. Finally, the claimant['s] work environment must have required no more than occasional/superficial contact with others and been free of concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants such as dusts, odors, fumes/gases and including extremes of temperatures and humidity.

[R. at 16.] At step four, the ALJ concluded that this RFC would not have allowed Mr. Butler to perform any of his past relevant work. [R. at 20-21.] The ALJ thus proceeded to step five and concluded that someone of Mr. Butler's education, work experience, age, and RFC would have been able to perform jobs such as assembler, hand packager, and inspector. [R. at 22.] Because these jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Butler was not disabled. [ Id. ]

Discussion

Plaintiff presents two main issues for review. She first argues that the ALJ should have found that Mr. Butler was disabled at step three of the sequential evaluation process because Mr. Butler's impairments met or medically equaled Listing 12.08. [Dkt. 18 at 19.] She then argues that the ALJ's RFC analysis was flawed because he allegedly failed to consider certain evidence; erroneously discounted Mr. Butler's credibility; and improperly discounted the opinion of Dr. Greg Lynch. [ Id. at 25-33.]

A. Listing 12.08

Plaintiff argues that Mr. Butler was disabled because his impairments satisfied Listing 12.08 for "Personality Disorder." [Dkt. 18 at 19.] To prevail on this argument, Plaintiff bears the burden of showing that Mr. Butler's impairments satisfied "all of the various criteria specified in the listing." Ribaudo v. Barnhart, 458 F.3d 580, 583 (7th Cir. 2006).

Listing 12.08 states that "personality disorder exists when personality traits are inflexible and maladaptive and cause either significant impairment in social or occupational functioning or subjective distress." 20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. The listing is met when both the "A" and "B" criteria are satisfied. Id. The A criteria require "[d]eeply ingrained, maladaptive patterns of behavior" associated with at least one of the following:

1. Seclusiveness or autistic thinking; or 2. Pathologically inappropriate suspiciousness or hostility; or 3. Oddities of thought, perception, speech and behavior; or 4. Persistent disturbances of mood or affect; or 5. Pathological dependence, passivity, or aggressivity; or 6. Intense and ...

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