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Northcutt v. Colvin

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

July 28, 2015

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


WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

Plaintiff John Northcutt requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), denying Mr. Northcutt's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Court rules as follows.


Mr. Northcutt protectively filed for SSI and DIB on June 23, 2011, alleging that he became disabled on March 16, 2007, primarily due to severe asthma, breathing impairments, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, anxiety, and supraventricular tachycardia. Mr. Northcutt's application was denied initially on November 14, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on December 15, 2011. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Mr. Northcutt requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A video hearing, during which Mr. Northcutt was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ Romona Scales on November 14, 2012. The ALJ issued her decision denying Mr. Northcutt's claim on March 28, 2013; the Appeals Council denied Mr. Northcutt's request for review on June 6, 2014. After the Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, Mr. Northcutt filed this timely appeal.


Disability is defined as "the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve 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 twelve-month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed 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., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her acceptance or rejection of specific evidence of disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). In order 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 evidence of record is aptly set forth in the parties' briefs and need not be recited here. Specific facts are set forth in the discussion section below where relevant.


The ALJ determined at step one that Mr. Northcutt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 16, 2007, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Northcutt had the following severe impairments: asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and supraventricular tachycardia. R. at 26. The ALJ found that his impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Mr. Northcutt had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work with the following restrictions:

The claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, and to sit, stand, and/or walk for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour work period. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to wetness and humidity, and he should avoid moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants such as dusts, fumes, odors, gasses, and areas of poor ventilation. Lastly, the claimant should avoid all exposure to extreme heat and cold.

Id. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that Mr. Northcutt could not perform any of his past relevant work. Finally, at step five, the ALJ determined that he could perform a range of light, unskilled work that exists in the national and regional economy, including an usher and an assembler. Id. at 31. ...

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