United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
KIRK W. STEPHENS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Kirk W. Stephens seeks judicial review of the Acting Social
Security Commissioner's decision denying him Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) for the period from March 31, 2010,
through March 17, 2013, and asks this Court to remand the
case. For the reasons below, the Court affirms the decision
of the Acting Commissioner.
Overview of the Case
argues the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who denied him an
SSI award (1) improperly evaluated Plaintiff's obesity
and failed to adequately develop the record, (2) improperly
weighed relevant medical opinions, and (3) improperly
evaluated Plaintiff's combined limitations and resultant
Residual Functional Capacity.
22, 2008, Plaintiff first submitted an application for SSI
under 42 U.S.C. § 1381, which was denied. Almost two
years later, Plaintiff filed a new SSI application. This
second application was denied, reconsidered, and denied
again. After these repeated denials, Plaintiff requested a
hearing, which took place before ALJ Yvonne K. Stam. Stam
ultimately found the Plaintiff not disabled. Plaintiff
requested review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals
Council, but the Council declined to do so. As a result, the
denial of SSI became the Commissioner's final decision.
Plaintiff then appealed the decision to the District Court.
The Court reversed the decision and remanded the case for
further determinations regarding the ALJ's findings of
credibility; assessment of Plaintiff's obesity; and
consideration of Plaintiff's heart disease, fecal
incontinence, arthritis of the right ankle, and loss of
fine-motor control in his right hand.
Maryann S. Bright received the case on remand and conducted a
hearing where both Plaintiff and Robert S. Barkhaus, Ph.D., a
vocational expert, testified. Because Plaintiff was found
disabled beginning on March 18, 2013, by a favorable
determination from a subsequent application for SSI,
Bright's disability determination only considered the
period from March 31, 2010, through March 17, 2013.
Ultimately, Bright issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
application for SSI, which the Appeals Council declined to
review. It is this decision which Plaintiff asks this Court
Standard of Review
Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court must ensure that the
ALJ has built an “accurate and logical bridge”
from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745
F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court will uphold
decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are
supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor
v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
673 (7th Cir. 2008).
Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims
for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether
the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner
considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does
not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can
perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant
is capable of performing any work in the national economy.
Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir.
claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step
five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir.