United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Diane Zeider, on behalf of her deceased husband Robert
Zeider, seeks judicial review of the denial of Mr.
Zeider's claim for disability benefits. For the following
reasons, the Court reverses the decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security and remands this matter for further
Zeider worked for many years as a crop sprayer until he was
laid off in September 2006. Years later, he applied for
social security disability benefits, alleging that he was
unable to work due to various physical and mental ailments,
including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema,
high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and depression.
In particular, he claimed that he experienced shortness of
breath and difficulty breathing with any exertion, which had
prevented him from finding or maintaining any gainful
employment since he was laid off. Mr. Zeider's Date Last
Insured was December 31, 2011, meaning that he needed to
establish that he was disabled by that date in order to
qualify for disability benefits. His condition worsened
shortly after that date, as he had a heart attack in January
2012. After the Commissioner had already denied his claim
initially and upon reconsideration, Mr. Zeider suffered
another heart attack and died on July 7, 2013.
Zeider's wife, Diane Zeider, was therefore substituted as
the claimant and testified at an administrative hearing on
Mr. Zeider's behalf. Following the hearing, the
Administrative Law Judge issued a written decision finding
that Mr. Zeider was not disabled by the time of his Date Last
Insured. At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Zeider had a
severe impairment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
At step three, she found that Mr. Zeider did not meet or
equal any listed impairment. Accordingly, she proceeded to
formulate Mr. Zeider's residual functional capacity,
which is a description of what an individual can still do
despite his limitations. She concluded that through his Date
Last Insured, Mr. Zeider had the ability to perform medium
work-meaning he could stand and walk for up to 6 hours in an
8-hour day and lift 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds
occasionally-except that he could have only occasional
exposure to extreme heat, dust, and other pulmonary
irritants. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the
ALJ concluded that an individual with that residual
functional capacity would be unable to perform Mr.
Zeider's past work (step four), but that he would be able
to perform other jobs (step five). She therefore found that
Mr. Zeider was not disabled by his Date Last Insured, so she
denied his claim for benefits. The Appeals Council denied Mr.
Zeider's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Zeider
filed this suit seeking review of that decision, and this
Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and
denial of disability benefits if they are supported by
substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less
than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478
F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, even if
“reasonable minds could differ” about the
disability status of the claimant, the Court must affirm the
Commissioner's decision as long as it is adequately
supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th
substantial-evidence determination, the Court considers the
entire administrative record but does not reweigh evidence,
resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or
substitute the Court's own judgment for that of the
Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336
F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the Court
conducts a “critical review of the evidence”
before affirming the Commissioner's decision.
Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence favoring
the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim's
rejection and may not ignore an entire line of evidence that
is contrary to the ALJ's findings. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 888 (7th Cir. 2001). Consequently,
an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary
support or an adequate discussion of the issues.
Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. While the ALJ is not
required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
insurance benefits are available only to those individuals
who can establish disability under the terms of the Social
Security Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th
Cir. 1998). Specifically, the claimant must be 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security regulations create a
five-step sequential evaluation process to be used in
determining whether the claimant has established a
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps
are to be used in the following order:
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
listed in ...