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Lowrey v. Colvin

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

September 27, 2016

KEVIN L. LOWREY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court.

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


         Mr. Lowrey filed for DIB on September 1, 2005, alleging he became disabled on April 24, 2005. Mr. Lowrey's application was denied initially and again upon reconsideration. Following the denial upon reconsideration, Mr. Lowrey requested and received a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The hearing, during which Mr. Lowrey was represented by counsel, was held on August 22, 2008, before ALJ Andrew F. Tranovich. ALJ Tranovich issued his decision on March 3, 2009, denying Mr. Lowrey's claim. Mr. Lowrey requested review by the Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council denied the request for review. Mr. Lowrey then filed a timely appeal in the Southern District of Indiana, Lowrey v. Astrue, Cause No. 1:10-cv-921-SEB-DML. In that matter, the parties stipulated to remand Mr. Lowrey's case to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings. Judge Sarah Evans Barker remanded the case pursuant to the parties' stipulation. A hearing was then held on remand on February 13, 2013, before ALJ Ronald T. Jordan. Mr. Lowrey was represented by counsel at the hearing. ALJ Jordan issued a partially favorable decision on March 28, 2013, finding that Mr. Lowrey was disabled beginning on September 16, 2009. Mr. Lowrey requested review of this decision by the Appeals Counsel, which it denied. He then filed the appeal that is now before this Court.


         Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a 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). 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 substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, ” considering his age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled, despite his medical condition and other factors. § 404.1520(b). 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. § 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 twelvemonth duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, he is not disabled. § 404.1520(g).

         In reviewing the 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. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). The ALJ is required to articulate only a minimal, but legitimate, justification for his 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 his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” he must “provide some glimpse into [his] reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176 (citations omitted).


         ALJ Jordan determined at step one that Mr. Lowrey had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 24, 2005, the alleged onset date. R. at 1314. At step two, he concluded that Mr. Lowrey had the following severe impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, obesity, status post right rotator cuff surgery, peripheral vascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, osteopenia, diabetes mellitus, and neuropathy. Id.

         At step three, ALJ Jordan determined that Mr. Lowrey had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

to lift, carry, push or pull 10 pounds occasionally and five pounds frequently. He can stand and walk two hours in an eight-hour day at stretches of 10 to 15 minutes. He can sit for six hours but must have the discretion to stand at the workstation up to five minutes each hour. He cannot perform overhead work bilaterally. He can occasionally stoop, balance, crouch, crawl, kneel, and climb stairs or ramps. He should not work around hazards such as unprotected heights or unguarded, dangerous moving machinery. He should not climb ladders, scaffolds, or ropes. He should not be subjected to temperature extremes, vibration or unusually high levels of humidity. He should not be subjected to concentrated levels of dust, fumes, gases, or strong odors.

R. at 1320. At step four, he determined that Mr. Lowrey was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. at 1332. At step five, he found that, prior to September 16, 2009, Mr. Lowrey was able to perform a limited range of sedentary work in positions existing in significant numbers in the national economy. R. at 1333-34. Accordingly, ALJ Jordan concluded that, prior to September 16, 2009, Mr. Lowrey was not disabled as defined by the Act. ALJ Jordan considered, however, that, for evaluative purposes under the Act, on September 16, 2009 - six months prior to Mr.

         Lowrey's fiftieth birthday - Mr. Lowrey's age category changed from “younger individual age 45-49” to “individual closely approaching advanced age.” R. at 1332 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563). This change altered Mr. Lowrey's vocational profile such that, “by direct application of Medical-Vocational ...

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