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Jacobs v. Colvin

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

June 18, 2015

DALLAS L. JACOBS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Dallas L. Jacobs ("Jacobs") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II and for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Judge AFFIRM the decision of the Commissioner.

I. Background

Jacobs filed his applications for DIB and SSI on February 5, 2008 alleging November 26, 2007 as the onset date of his disability. [R. at 140 (SSI), 144 (DIB).] In his disability report filed in conjunction with his applications, Jacobs reported that his disabling impairments are his "Back/meniscus tear left leg." [R. at 192.] Jacobs's applications were denied initially on April 4, 2008 and upon reconsideration on May 12, 2008. [R. at 57-60.] Jacobs timely requested a hearing on his applications, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Michael Scurry ("ALJ Scurry") by video teleconference on July 21, 2010. [R. at 9.]

ALJ Scurry issued a decision on August 5, 2010 denying Jacobs's applications for DIB and SSI on the basis that, because Jacobs started his own trucking business in September of 2008, there was no twelve-month period during which Jacobs was unable to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA). [R. at 14.] On June 14, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Jacobs's request for review, so Jacobs appealed the matter to the District Court. [Dkt. 17 at 1.] On appeal, the District Court found that the ALJ's decision-that Jacobs's work in 2008 rose to the level of SGA-was not supported by substantial evidence, and remanded the matter for further proceedings consistent with the District Court's order. [1:11-cv-01088-DML-WTL Dkt. 25.]

On remand, the matter came before Administrative Law Judge David L. Welch ("ALJ") for a hearing in Indianapolis on June 27, 2013. [R. at 399.] The ALJ issued a decision on September 27, 2013, again denying Jacobs's applications for DIB and SSI [R. at 413], and on August 25, 2014 the Appeals Council denied Jacobs's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for the purposes of judicial review [R. at 382]. Jacobs timely filed his Complaint with this Court on October 24, 2014, which Complaint is now before the Court.

II. Legal Standard

To be eligible for DIB or SSI, a claimant must have a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.[1] 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).

To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner, as represented by the ALJ, employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a "severe" impairment, one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities, he is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and he is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and either cannot perform his past relevant work or has no past relevant work but he can perform certain other available work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Before proceeding from step three to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity, identifying the claimant's functional limitations and assessing the claimant's remaining capacity for work-related activities. S.S.R. 96-8p.

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 but may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). 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) (citing Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 287 (7th Cir. 1985); Zblewski v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 75, 79 (7th Cir. 1984)). 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 his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he "is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, " he must "provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning" and "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

III. The ALJ's Decision

In his decision, the ALJ first determined, "in an abundance of caution, " that Jacobs did not engage in substantial gainful activity from November 2007 through December 2008. [R. at 410-02.] At step two, the ALJ found that Jacobs's "Disorders of the spine; Major dysfunction of a joint (for any cause), left knee; Obesity; and Sleep apnea" are all severe impairments, as defined by the Act. [R. at 402-04.] However, at step three the ALJ found that Jacobs does not have an impairment that meets or medically equals a Listing by evaluating the following listed impairments: Listing 1.02 for his left knee dysfunction, Listing 1.04 for his degenerative disc disease, and Listing 3.10 for his sleep apnea. [R. at 404-05 (noting that there is no longer a Listing for obesity).]

At step three but before step four, the ALJ, after "careful consideration of the entire record, " determined that Jacobs has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform "medium work" with the following limitations:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity for lifting up to fifty pounds occasionally and up to twenty-five pounds frequently in medium work as defined by the regulations, with normal breaks. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can only occasionally stoop or kneel. ...

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