United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DION H. R. SPARKS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.
Dion Sparks ("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 the current applications for DIB and SSI on February 28, 2012, alleging an onset of disability on November 2, 2008. [R. at 11.] He was 34 years old at the time of the alleged onset, and he had past work experience as a fast food cook, cook helper, kitchen helper, and metal sorter. [R. at 24-25.] He alleged disability due to depression; anxiety; leg and back problems; and an Achilles tendon tear. [R. at 16.]
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on June 21, 2012 and on reconsideration on September 17, 2012. [R. at 11.] Plaintiff requested a hearing, which occurred via videoconference before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Rosanne Dummer on May 9, 2013. [ Id. ] Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing, as did Plaintiff's case manager from Meridian Health Services, Dia Hogg. [ Id. ] Vocational expert Deborah Bunn-Durham and attorney Patrick Mulvany were also present. [ 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 May 28, 2013 decision. [R. at 26.] The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 18, 2014, [R. at 1-6], rendering the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff filed his complaint in this Court on September 17, 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 noted that Plaintiff had filed SSI and/or DIB applications, in September 2007, March 2009, and June 2011, all of which had been denied. [R. at 11.] The final denial occurred on September 6, 2011. [R. at 12.] Because Plaintiff's alleged onset date of November 2, 2008 pre-dated the final denial of Plaintiff's previous applications, the ALJ construed the current application as an implicit request to reopen Plaintiff's prior applications. [ Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.987(b), 416.1487(b)).] The ALJ found no basis to reopen the applications,  and she accordingly concluded that the prior denials were binding through September 6, 2011.
Turning to the current applications, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2016. [R. at 14.] She then applied the five-step sequential evaluation process. At step one, she found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") since November 2, 2008, the alleged onset date. [ Id. ] At step two, she found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of "major depressive disorder, " "panic disorder without agoraphobia, and "status post July 2012 left tendon repair." [ Id. ] She also noted that Plaintiff complained of back pain and arthritis, but she found that these impairments were not severe. [ 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. [ Id. ] She evaluated Plaintiff's musculoskeletal impairments under Listing 1.02 (Major Dysfunction of a Joint), but found that the medical evidence did not support all criteria of that listing. [R. at 15.] She then considered Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.04 and 12.06. [ Id. ] In doing so, she employed the SSA's special technique for evaluation of mental impairments. She 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. ] She also found that Plaintiff had no episodes of decompensation of extended duration, [ id. ], and she concluded that the Paragraph B criteria were not satisfied. [ Id. ] The ALJ then turned to the "Paragraph C" criteria, but she found that the record contained insufficient evidence to establish that these criteria were satisfied. [ Id. ]
The ALJ next analyzed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). She concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to:
lift/carry about twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit at least six of eight hours, and possibly up to eight of eight hours; and stand/walk for two of eight hours using a brace. He should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should avoid concentrated exposure to wetness and hazards of work such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights, and slippery uneven surfaces (Exhibits 10F, 15F). Secondary to mental limitations, the claimant is able to understand, remember, and carry out simple tasks. He is able to sustain attention for simple tasks for extended periods of two-hour segments in an eight-hour day. He is able to maintain on a superficial basis and on an ongoing basis contact with coworkers and supervisors. He can attend to tasks for sufficient periods of time to complete them. He is able to manage stresses involved with simple work (Exhibit 7F).
[ Id. ] At step four, the ALJ concluded that this RFC did not allow Plaintiff to perform any of his past relevant work. [R. at 24.] The ALJ thus proceeded to step five, at which time she received testimony from the vocational expert indicating that someone with Plaintiff's education, work experience, age, and RFC would be able to perform jobs such compact assembler, dowel inspector, hand packager, glass frame polisher, and cuff folder. [R. at 25.] Because these jobs ...