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Schall v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

October 18, 2016

LARRY D. SCHALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM C. LEE, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter is before the court for judicial review of a final decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) as provided for in the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §416(I). Section 205(g) of the Act provides, inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer, the [Commissioner] shall file a certified copy of the transcript of the record including the evidence upon which the findings and decision complained of are based. The court shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the case for a rehearing." It also provides, "[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

         The law provides that an applicant for disability insurance benefits must establish an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3). It is not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an impairment exists. It must be shown that the impairment is severe enough to preclude the plaintiff from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Gotshaw v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840 (7th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 945 (1963); Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp. 1098 (N.D.Ill. 1979). It is well established that the burden of proving entitlement to disability insurance benefits is on the plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d 36 (7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v. Cohen, 425 F.2d 20 (7th Cir. 1970).

         Given the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this court] is whether the record as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] findings." Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial evidence is defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984) quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v. Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed, 42 U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of law." Garfield, supra at 607; see also Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).

         In the present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2011.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of November 5, 2010 through his date last insured of December 31, 2011 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairment: Parkinson's disease (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c), specifically lifting and/or carrying 50 pounds occasionally, 25 pounds frequently; standing and/or walking 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; and sitting 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as a warehouse supervisor. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from November 5, 2010, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2011, the date last insured (20 CFR 404.1520(f)).

(R.22-27).

         Based upon these findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability insurance benefits. The ALJ's decision became the final agency decision when the Appeals Council denied review. This appeal followed.

         Plaintiff filed his opening brief on May 23, 2016 On August 30, 2016, the defendant filed a memorandum in support of the Commissioner's decision, and on September 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed his reply. Upon full review of the record in this cause, this court is of the view that the ALJ's decision should be remanded.

         A five step test has been established to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See Singleton v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 710, 711 (7th Cir. 1988); Bowen v. Yuckert, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2290-91 (1987). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has summarized that test as follows:

The following steps are addressed in order: (1) Is the claimant presently unemployed? (2) Is the claimant's impairment "severe"? (3) Does the impairment meet or exceed one of a list of specific impairments? (4) Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation? (5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within the economy? An affirmative answer leads either to the next step or, on steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than step 3, stops the inquiry and leads to a determination that the claimant is not disabled.

Nelson v. Bowen, 855 F.2d 503, 504 n.2 (7th Cir. 1988); Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985); accord Halvorsen v. Heckler, 743 F.2d 1221 (7th Cir. 1984). From the nature of the ALJ's decision to deny benefits, it is clear that step four was the determinative inquiry.

         Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on July 30, 2012 alleging disability beginning February 29, 2012. (A.R. at 224). The Disability Determination Bureau (DDB) denied the Plaintiff's claims on April 24, 2012. Id. at 113. Plaintiff requested reconsideration, but was again denied on July 23, 2012. Id. at 114. Plaintiff filed a request for an administrative hearing on August 2, 2012. Id. On August 23, 2013 and September 20, 2013 Plaintiff appeared via video conference in Elkhart, Indiana before ALJ Patricia Melvin of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Id. at 78-112 and 36-77. On February 10, 2014, ALJ Melvin issued a partially favorable decision, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled since his alleged onset date but became disabled on July 10, 2013 due in part to Parkinson's disease. Id. at 115-128. Plaintiff filed a request for review by the Appeals Council of the Office of Disability ...


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