United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S
Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge.
Frank Barnhill applied for disability insurance benefits in
December 2012, alleging a disability onset date of March 30,
2012. [Filing No. 13-5 at 2-8.] His application was denied
initially and he requested a hearing with an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). [Filing No. 13-2 at 9-10;
Filing No. 13-4 at 2-5.] ALJ Joan Ho held a hearing on April
15, 2014 and issued a decision on May 2, 2014, concluding
that Mr. Barnhill was not entitled to receive benefits.
[Filing No. 13-2 at 14-25; Filing No. 13-2 at 32-69.] The
Appeals Council denied Mr. Barnhill's request for review
on October 9, 2015, making the Commissioner's decision
final and subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 13-2 at
2-5.] Mr. Barnhill then filed this action under 42 U.S.C.
Section 405(g) asking the Court to review the denial of
benefits. [Filing No. 1 at 1.]
Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability
insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income to
individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v.
Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory
definition of ‘disability' has two parts. First, it
requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second, it
requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental
impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The
statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted
or can be expected to last…not less than 12
months.” Id. at 217.
applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this
Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied
the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence
exists for the ALJ's decision. See Barnett v.
Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation
omitted). For the purpose of judicial review,
“[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). Because
the ALJ “is in the best position to determine the
credibility of witnesses, ” Craft v. Astrue,
539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the
ALJ's credibility determination “considerable
deference, ” overturning it only if it is
“patently wrong, ” Prochaska v.
Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations
must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in
(1) [W]hether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the
impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the
claimant can perform [his] past work; and (5) whether the
claimant is capable of performing work in the national
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000)
(citations omitted) (alterations in original). “If a
claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, [he] will
automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies
steps one and two, but not three, then [he] must satisfy step
four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the
SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing
work in the national economy.” Knight v.
Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).
Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a
claimant's RFC by evaluating “all limitations that
arise from medically determinable impairments, even those
that are not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ
“may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the
ruling.” Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four
to determine whether the claimant can perform her own past
relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether
the claimant can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(e), (g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for
Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden
shift to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.
ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists
to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the
denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an
ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence,
a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate
remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d
345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits “is
appropriate only where all factual issues have been resolved
and the record can yield but one supportable
conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).
Barnhill was forty-two years old when he applied for
disability benefits in December 2012. [Filing No. 13-5 at 2.]
Mr. Barnhill attended high school through tenth grade and has
previously worked as a plumber and service technician.
[Filing No. 13-6 at 102-106.] He claims that he became
disabled on March 30, 2012. [Filing No. 13-5 at 2.] Mr.
Barnhill met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through September 30, 2015. [Filing No. 13-2 at
the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social
Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. Section 404.1520(a)(4),
the ALJ issued an opinion on May 2, 2014 determining that Mr.
Barnhill is not disabled. [Filing No. 13-2 at 11-25.] The ALJ
found as follows:
• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr.
Barnhill had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date. [Filing No.
13-2 at 16.]
• At Step Two of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr.
Barnhill suffered from the severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease of the thoracic and lumbar spine, obstructive
sleep apnea, obesity, and major depressive disorder. [Filing
No. 13-2 at 17-18.]
• At Step Three of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr.
Barnhill did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one
of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 13-2 at 18-20.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, the ALJ found
that Mr. Barnhill had the residual functional capacity
[P]erform light work . . . except that the claimant is able
to lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently. He can stand and walk approximately six hours of
an eight-hour workday and sit approximately six hours of an
eight-hour workday. The claimant can occasionally climb
stairs and ramps but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He
can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch but never
crawl. The claimant can perform frequent rotation, flexion,
and extension of the neck. He can occasionally perform
overhead reaching with the bilateral upper extremities. The
claimant can perform frequent feeling with the right
(dominant) upper extremity. He must avoid concentrated
exposure to excessive vibration and workplace hazards such as
dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights. The
claimant is limited to performing simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks. He is able to sustain ...