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Allen v. Colvin

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

June 29, 2015

ROGER W. ALLEN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



Plaintiff Roger W. Allen (“Mr. Allen”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title IX of the Social Security Act (the “Act”).[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s decision.


A. Procedural History

Mr. Allen filed applications for DIB and SSI on March 24, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2009. His application was denied through the administrative process, and on December 6, 2011, Mr. Allen filed a written request for a hearing with an administrative law judge. On October 4, 2012, Administrative Law Judge Julia Gibbs (the “ALJ”) held a video hearing at which an impartial vocational expert, Brian L. Womer, also testified. On October 25, 2012, the ALJ found that Mr. Allen was not disabled because he could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy, despite his limitations. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.

B. Factual Background

Mr. Allen was 48 years old at his alleged onset date of June 1, 2009 and 52 years old at the time of the ALJ’s decision. He has a high school education. Mr. Allen worked for 30 years at Allison Factory as a heating and air conditioning mechanic. He alleges disability due to numbness and pain in his feet, numbness and weakness in his hands, shortness of breath, diabetes, and pain in his back, right ankle, and right shoulder. The basis of Mr. Allen’s appeal relates to his claims of disabling fibromyalgia; however, the medical records reflect treatment primarily for asthma, allergies, and diabetes. In 2009, Mr. Allen complained of shoulder pain and reduced range of motion, and an MRI showed a tear in his rotator cuff. He underwent surgery on his right shoulder in November 2009, and post-operative notes reflect that he was pain-free.

In January 2012, Mr. Allen complained of widespread joint pain. He was examined by rheumatologist Dr. Stefan Monev M.D. (“Dr. Monev”), who determined that Mr. Allen had trigger tender points of 11 out of 18 locations, limited joint range of motion in his great toes, crepitus in his knees and great toes, and cervical and upper thoracic paravertebral tenderness pain in his spine. Dr. Monev diagnosed Mr. Allen with fibromyalgia and started him on Cymbalta. In April 2012, Mr. Allen returned to Dr. Monev for a follow-up appointment for his fibromyalgia. Dr. Monev noted that Cymbalta had improved Mr. Allen’s generalized joint, muscle and back pain, but he continued to have some trigger tender points. Dr. Monev continued Mr. Allen on Cymbalta. At a subsequent follow-up in August 2012, Mr. Allen’s fibromyalgia remained stable and he was continued on Cymbalta.


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. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). 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) that meets the durational requirement, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At step three, the ALJ 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. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelve month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). In order to determine steps four and five, the ALJ must determine the claimant’s Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”), which is the “maximum that a claimant can still do despite his mental and physical limitations.” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 675-76 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1); SSR 96-8p). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v).

In reviewing the ALJ’s decision, this Court must uphold the ALJ’s findings of fact if the findings are supported by substantial evidence 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. Further, 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). While the Court reviews the ALJ’s decision deferentially, the Court cannot uphold an ALJ’s decision if the decision “fails to mention highly pertinent evidence, . . . or that because of contradictions or missing premises fails to build a logical bridge between the facts of the case and the outcome.” Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

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). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her ...

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