United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ERNEST V. COUGILL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
V. COUGILL, Plaintiff, represented by Patrick Harold Mulvany.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant, represented by Kathryn E.
Olivier, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL
McVICKER LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.
matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. Â§
636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) for a report and
recommendation as to its appropriate disposition. (Dkt. 9) As
addressed below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the
District Judge REVERSE AND REMAND the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration that
plaintiff Ernest V. Cougill is not disabled.
Cougill applied in April 2012 for Supplemental Security
Income disability benefits (SSI) under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, alleging that he has been disabled since
January 1, 2008. Acting for the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration following a hearing on November 14,
2013, administrative law judge Monica LaPolt issued a
decision on January 29, 2014, finding Mr. Cougill not
disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's
decision on May 8, 2015, rendering the ALJ's decision for
the Commissioner final. Mr. Cougill timely filed this civil
action under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g) for review of the
Cougill contends that the ALJ erroneously evaluated the
severity of his mental impairments and their effect on his
functioning. As explained below, the court determines that
the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence because (1) she did not advise the vocational expert
of information material to a step five disability
determination and, in fact, made a clear factual error
regarding that information; (2) omitted from the RFC, without
explanation, functional limitations described in the
narrative portion of the opinion of state agency reviewers,
although she purported to give great weight to the
reviewers' opinion; and (3) even misstated the
conclusions made by the same reviewers. In addition to these
errors, the ALJ failed to provide a rational explanation why
a limitation to simple, repetitive work addresses Mr.
Cougill's particular deficits in concentration,
persistence, or pace. Accordingly, the Commissioner's
decision must be reversed and remanded.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show he is unable 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. Â§ 1382c(a)(3)(A).
Mr. Cougill is disabled if his impairments are of such
severity that he is not able to perform the work he
previously engaged in and, if based on his age, education,
and work experience, he cannot engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers
in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. Â§ 423(d)(2)(A). The Social
Security Administration ("SSA") has implemented
these statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a
five-step sequential evaluation process for determining
disability. 20 C.F.R. Â§ 416.920.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled. Step two
asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe; if they are not, then he is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that "significantly
limits [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. Â§ 416.920(c). The
third step is an analysis of whether the claimant's
impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or
medically equal the criteria of any of the conditions in the
Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes medical
conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has
pre-determined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all
of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical
findings equal in severity to the criteria for the most
similar listed impairment, then the claimant is presumptively
disabled and qualifies for benefits. Sims v.
Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then his
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite his
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
Â§ 416.945. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the RFC to
perform his past relevant work, then he is not disabled. The
fifth step asks whether there is work in the relevant economy
that the claimant can perform, based on his vocational
profile (age, work experience, and education) and his RFC; if
so, then he is not disabled.
individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then
the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform, given his age, education, work
experience, and functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. Â§
416.960(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000
(7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of
law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Dixon v. Massanari,270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence means evidence that a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a
scintilla of evidentiary ...