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Kirby v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

May 28, 2015

WILLIAM J. KIRBY, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.

William Kirby, Jr., ("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 September 16, 2011, alleging an onset of disability on July 1, 2010. [R. at 16.] He was 39 years old at the time of the alleged onset, and he had past work experience as a printing press operator. [R. at 28.] He alleged disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, a knee impairment, digestive disorders, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. [R. at 18-19.][1]

Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on February 9, 2012 and on reconsideration on May 3, 2012. [R. at 16.] Plaintiff requested a hearing, which occurred via videoconference before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William Sampson on May 10, 2013. [ Id. ] Plaintiff appeared and testified before the ALJ. [R. a 36.] Also present were Plaintiff's attorney, Nicholas Sauter, and a vocational expert, Stephanie Archer. [ Id. ] The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability at any time from the alleged onset date through the date of the ALJ's June 14, 2013 decision. [R. at 29.] The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 31, 2014, [R. at 1-7], rendering the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff filed his complaint in this Court on August 18, 2014. [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

The ALJ first determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016. [R. at 18.] He then proceeded through the five-step sequential evaluation. At step one, he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") since July 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. [ Id. ] At step two, he found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome on the right, migraines, knee impairment, obesity, gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcer disease, Barrett's esophagus, major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder." [R. at 18-19.]

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 19.] He specifically considered and rejected Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) and Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine) to account for Plaintiff's musculoskeletal impairments. [R. at 19-20.] He also stated that he considered the effect of Plaintiff's obesity in accordance with SSR 02-1p. [R. at 20.]

The ALJ then considered Plaintiff's mental impairments under Listings 12.04 and 12.06. [ Id. ] 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 "moderate" restrictions in activities of daily living; "moderate" difficulties in social functioning; and "moderate" difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. [R. at 20-21.] He also found that Plaintiff had no episodes of decompensation of extended duration, [R. at 21], and he concluded that the Paragraph B criteria were not satisfied. [ Id. ] 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 21-22.]

The ALJ next analyzed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). He concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to:

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. The claimant can frequently but not constantly use his bilateral upper extremities for handling and fingering. The claimant can frequently but not constantly use foot controls. The claimant can perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks. The claimant can have occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers, but should have no interaction with the public.

[R. at 22.] At step four, the ALJ concluded that this RFC did not allow Plaintiff to perform his past relevant work. [R. at 28.] The ALJ thus proceeded to step five and received testimony from the vocational expert indicating that someone of Plaintiff's age, education, experience, and RFC would be able to perform jobs such as assembler, cleaner, and machine feeder. [R. at 29.] Because these jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. [ Id. ]

Discussion

Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred in three ways. He first argues that the ALJ failed to give adequate weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physicians. [Dkt. 16 at 10.] Plaintiff then contends that the ALJ erred at step three by concluding that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal a Listed impairment. [ Id. at 14.] He finally argues that the ALJ did not appropriately ...


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