United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
NATHANIEL E. SHARP, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch, United States Magistrate Judge.
Nathaniel E. Sharp applied in 2012 for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income disability
benefits (SSI) under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the
Social Security Act, alleging he has been disabled since May
30, 2012. Acting for the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration following a hearing held on January 31, 2014,
administrative law judge Belinda J. Brown issued a decision
on March 7, 2014, that Mr. Sharp is not disabled. The Appeals
Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on June 11,
2015, rendering the ALJ's decision for the Commissioner
final. Mr. Sharp timely filed this civil action under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's
Sharp contends the Commissioner's decision must be
reversed and remanded because the ALJ (1) did not obtain an
updated medical opinion on whether, as a result of Mr.
Sharp's leg length discrepancy, a listing was met or
medically equaled and (2) did not properly evaluate his
mental impairments or the evidence of his leg, hip, and back
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court's standard of review and
then address Mr. Sharp's specific assertions of error.
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. § 423(d)(1)(A)
(DIB benefits); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI
benefits). Mr. Sharp 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. § 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. § 404.1520.
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.
§ 404.1520(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 predetermined 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.
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.
§ 404.1545. 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. §
404.1560(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
(7thCir. 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 support, but does not demand
a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson,
246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for her decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not
address every piece of evidence in her decision, but she
cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the
conclusions she made, and she must trace the path of her
reasoning and connect the evidence to her findings and
conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592
(7thCir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227
F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
The ALJ's ...