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Everett v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Lafayette Division.

June 2, 2015

WILLIAM C. EVERETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant,

OPINION AND ORDER

RUDY LOZANO, Judge United States District Court

This matter is before the Court for review of the Commissioner of Social Security’s final decision denying Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits to Plaintiff, William C. Everett. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner of Social Security’s final decision is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED for proceedings consistent with this opinion pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. section 405(g).

BACKGROUND

On February 11, 2011, Plaintiff, William C. Everett, filed a claim for Social Security Disability benefits. Everett alleged that his disability began November 1, 2010, due to peripheral artery disease, elevated cholesterol, osteoarthritis, herniated discs, possible type II diabetes, impaired memory, chronic pain, history of aneurysm in left leg, arthritis, and twice broken collar bone. The Social Security Administration denied his initial application and also denied his claim on reconsideration. On August 30, 2012, Plaintiff appeared, represented by counsel, at an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) David R. Bruce. Testimony was provided by Everett and Leonard M. Fisher, a vocational expert. On September 10, 2012, ALJ Bruce issued a decision denying Everett’s claims, and finding him not disabled because he retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a significant number of unskilled, light level jobs in the national economy.

Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision, but the request was denied. Accordingly, the ALJ’s decision became the Commissioner’s final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a). Plaintiff has initiated the instant action for judicial review of the Commissioner’s final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 405(g).

DISCUSSION

Review of Commissioner’s Decision

This Court has authority to review the Commissioner’s decision to deny social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” Id. Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a decision.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, the Court shall examine the record in its entirety, but shall not substitute its own opinion for the ALJ’s by reconsidering the facts or re-weighing evidence. Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003). With that in mind, however, this Court reviews the ALJ’s findings of law de novo and if the ALJ makes an error of law, the Court may reverse without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings. White v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999).

As a threshold matter, for a claimant to be eligible for DIB or SSI benefits under the Social Security Act, the claimant must establish that he is disabled. To qualify as being disabled, the claimant must be unable “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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A). To determine whether a claimant has satisfied this statutory definition, the ALJ performs a five step evaluation:

Step 1: Is the claimant performing substantial gainful activity: If yes, the claim is disallowed; if no, the inquiry proceeds to Step 2.
Step 2: Is the claimant’s impairment or combination of impairments “severe” and expected to last at least twelve months? If not, the claim is disallowed; if yes, the inquiry proceeds to Step 3.
Step 3: Does the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals the severity of an impairment in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments, as described in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If yes, then claimant is automatically disabled; if not, then the inquiry proceeds to Step 4.
Step 4: Is the claimant able to perform his past relevant work? If yes, the claim is denied; if no, the inquiry proceeds to Step 5, where the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner.
Step 5: Is the claimant able to perform any other work within his residual functional capacity in the national economy: If yes, the claim is denied; if no, the claimant is disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(I)-(v); see also Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 n.8 (7th Cir. 1994).

In this case, at step two, the ALJ found that Everett suffers from the following severe impairments: peripheral artery disease, degenerative disk [sic.] disease of the lumbar and cervical spines, arthritis of the left knee, scoliosis, and obesity. (Tr. 25.) At step three, the ALJ evaluated the claim under the listings 1.04, Disorders of the Spine, 1.02, Major Dysfunction of a Joint and 4.12, Peripheral Arterial Disease, and found that no listings were met. (Tr. 26.) The ALJ’s finding on residual functional capacity was that “the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b).” (Tr. 26.) Based on Everett’s RFC, the ALJ found at step four that Everett is not capable of performing his past relevant work as a construction worker. (Tr. 31.) However, at step five, the ALJ did find there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Everett can perform. Everett believes that the ALJ committed several errors requiring reversal.

Additional Evidence Originating After the ALJ’s Decision

Plaintiff submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council after the Administrative Law Judge had issued his September 10, 2012 decision. The Appeals Council listed the seven pieces of evidence, and its reasoning for finding it did not affect the ALJ’s decision. Then, it returned the evidence to Plaintiff and stated it was available to Plaintiff “in your electronic file.” (Tr. 2.) Although the CFR says the Appeals Council “will return the additional evidence to you with an explanation as to why it did not accept the additional evidence and will advise you of your right to file a new application, ” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.976, 416.1476, there is also a HALLEX that provides that a copy of this evidence should be included in the Administrative Record. HALLEX I-3-5-20(S.S.A.), 1993 WL 643143, at *1. In the best interest of justice, and so that this Court was able to ...


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