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Denton v. Colvin

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

August 25, 2016

ROBERT L. DENTON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge.

         Plaintiff Robert L. Denton requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Denton's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, rules as follows.


         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).[1] 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 Administrative Law Judge (“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.


         Denton protectively filed for DIB and SSI on June 5, 2012, alleging that he became disabled on December 20, 2011, due to shoulder pain, arthritis, high blood pressure, depression, hearing loss, insomnia, carpal tunnel syndrome, knee problems and a thyroid condition. Denton was born on September 13, 1962, and he was forty-nine years old on the alleged disability onset date. Denton has an eleventh-grade education and has past relevant work experience as a carpenter and an industrial cleaner.

         Denton's application was denied initially on August 17, 2012, and upon reconsideration on October 23, 2012. Thereafter, Denton requested and received a hearing in front of an ALJ. A hearing, during which Denton was represented by counsel, was held by ALJ Jennifer Fisher on August 1, 2013. The ALJ issued her decision denying Denton's claim on October 24, 2013; the appeals council denied Denton's request for review on February 25, 2015. Denton then filed this timely appeal.


         The ALJ determined that Denton met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014. The ALJ determined at step one that Denton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 20, 2011, the alleged onset date. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Denton had the severe impairments of “bilateral shoulder dysfunction; history of carpal tunnel syndrome; degenerative joint disease of the right knee; psoriasis; and hypertension, ” Record at 23, but that his impairments, singly or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Denton had the following Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”):

I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently using both upper extremities and stand/walk for approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour day. He has no limitation on his ability to sit. The claimant can frequently, as opposed to constantly, reach, handle, and finger with his bilateral upper extremities. However, the claimant can only occasionally reach overhead with his bilateral upper extremities. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, and climb ramps and stairs, but he can never kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Furthermore, the claimant must avoid even moderate exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, extreme humidity, and extreme vibration. The claimant must also avoid all exposure to unprotected heights, slippery/uneven surfaces, and dangerous moving machinery. The claimant is capable of sustaining a flexible work pace.

Id. at 25. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that Denton was unable to perform any past relevant work. The ALJ found that transferability of job skills was not material to the determination of disability because the Medical-Vocational Rules supported a finding that Denton was not disabled. The ALJ found that, considering Denton's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Denton was not disabled as defined by the Act.

         IV. EVIDE ...

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