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James v. Colvin

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

June 17, 2015

MICHAEL A. JAMES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION

Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge United States District Court

Plaintiff Michael A. James applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits (collectively, “disability benefits”) on June 6, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2011. [Filing No. 12-5 at 2-6; Filing No. 12-5 at 7-15.] His claim was denied initially and on reconsideration, and a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Angelita Hamilton (the “ALJ”) on October 4, 2013. [Filing No. 12-2 at 14.] On October 25, 2013, the ALJ issued an opinion concluding that Mr. James was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. [Filing No. 12-3 at 61-73.] The Appeals Council denied his request for review on March 25, 2014, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s “final decision” subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 12-2 at 5-8.] Mr. James filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asking this Court to review his denial of benefits. [Filing No. 1.]

I.

Background

Mr. James was forty-nine years old at the time he applied for disability benefits, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2011. [Filing No. 12-5 at 2.] He has a high school diploma and completed two years of college. [Filing No. 12-2 at 23.] Mr. James previously operated a computer business from his home, worked for a food service company at a university, and worked in the pet department of a Wal-Mart. [Filing No. 12-2 at 21-23.] Mr. James cites the combined effects of degenerative disk disease in his cervical and lumbar spine, radiculopathy in his lower extremities, a seizure disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder for his inability to maintain work.[1] [Filing No. 12-2 at 18-19.]

Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ ultimately concluded that Mr. James is not disabled. [Filing No. 12-3 at 72.] The ALJ found as follows:
· At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. James met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2013. [Filing No. 12-3 at 63.] The ALJ further found that Mr. James had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[2]since his alleged onset date. [Filing No. 12-3 at 63.]
· At Step Two of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. James has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease; status post lumbar fusion; sarcoidosis; bipolar disorder; anxiety; and alcohol abuse. [Filing No. 12-3 at 63.]
· At Step Three of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. James did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 12-3 at 64-65.] In considering various listings, the ALJ concluded that Mr. James had mild restrictions in activities of daily living; moderate difficulties with social functioning; and moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace. [Filing No. 12-3 at 64-65.]
· The ALJ concluded that through the date of last insured, Mr. James had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work with the ability to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally, 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk up to 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; sit 6 hours in an 8 hour workday; occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; occasionally interact with supervisors, co-workers, and the general public. [Filing No. 12-3 at 66.] Mr. James’ RFC also had a limitation for avoiding exposure to hazardous moving machinery, raw chemicals or solutions, and unprotected heights; and it also limited him to simple, routine, repetitive tasks. [Filing No. 12-3 at 66.]
· At Step Four of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that Mr. James was unable to perform any past relevant work. [Filing No. 12-3 at 71.]
· At Step Five of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that considering Mr. James’ age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform. [Filing No. 12-3 at 71.] The ALJ relied on testimony from the vocational expert (“VE”) to identify jobs that Mr. James could perform, such as a small products assembler, wire worker, encapsulator, and mail clerk. [Filing No. 12-3 at 72.]
· Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Mr. James is not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and, thus, is not entitled to the requested disability benefits. [Filing No. 12-3 at 72.]

Mr. James requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision, but that request was denied on March 25, 2014, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s “final decision” subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 12-2 at 5-8.] Mr. James filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ...


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