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Dixon v. Colvin

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

December 8, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Mark J. Dinsmore United State magistrate Judge Southern District of Indiana

         Plaintiff Christopher Dixon requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”).[1] See42 U.S.C. § 1382c. For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Judge REVERSE the decision of the Commissioner and REMAND the matter for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         Dixon filed his application for SSI four-and-one-half years ago, in July 2012, alleging April 28, 2006 as the onset date of disability. [Dkt. 8-6 at 39 (R. 198).] In his disability report filed in conjunction with his application, Dixon listed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and a learning disability as his disabling conditions.[2] [Dkt. 8-6 at 6 (R. 165).] Dixon's application was denied initially on October 10, 2012 [Dkt. 8-3 at 14 (R. 69)] and upon reconsideration on January 22, 2013 [Dkt. 8-3 at 27 (R. 82)]. Dixon timely requested a hearing on his application, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Ronald T. Jordan (“ALJ”) on July 10, 2014. [Dkt. 8-2 at 35 (R. 34).] The ALJ issued his decision on September 12, 2014, again denying Dixon's application for DIB. [Dkt. 8-2 at 15-29 (R. 14-28).] On December 18, 2015 the Appeals Council denied Dixon's request to review the ALJ's decision, making it the final decision of the Commissioner for the purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 8-2 at 2-4 (R. 1-3).] Dixon timely filed his Complaint with this Court on February 10, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. [Dkt. 1.]

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for SSI, a claimant must have a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382c. Disability is defined as the inability 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, or one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities, he is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and he is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and either cannot perform his past relevant work or has no past relevant work but can perform certain other available work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Before proceeding from step three to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), identifying the claimant's functional limitations and assessing the claimant's remaining capacity for work related activities. S.S.R. 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184.

         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. The Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ but may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.2d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). The ALJ “need not contain a complete written evaluation of every piece of evidence.” McKinzey v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 884, 891 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005)). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1997). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision. The ALJ must “provide some glimpse into his reasoning” and “build an accurate logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. The scope of review is confined to the rationale offered by the ALJ. See SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 93-95 (1943); Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 922 (7th Cir. 2010).

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         In his decision, the ALJ first determined that Dixon had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 6, 2012. [Dkt. 8-2 at 20 (R. 19).] At step two, the ALJ found Dixon's severe impairments to include “asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), residuals of stabbing, borderline intellectual functioning, and anxiety/post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” [Id. (citation omitted)] At step three the ALJ found that Dixon did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals a listing. [Dkt. 8-2 at 19-23 (R. 19-22).] The ALJ addressed Listing 3.03 for asthma; the digestive listings under 5.00; and Listings 12.02, 12.05, and 12.06 for mental disorders. [Id.]

         Before step four, “after careful consideration of the entire record, ” the ALJ determined that Dixon had the RFC to perform light work with additional restrictions. [Dkt. 8-2 at 23 (R. 22).] Specifically, the ALJ found the following:

[Dixon can] lift, carry, push, or pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He can stand and walk 6 hours in an 8 hour day and sit 6 hours. He should not be exposed to concentrated levels of dusts, fumes, gasses, or strong odors. He should not be exposed to unusually high levels of humidity. He is limited to work involving simple, repetitive tasks requiring no independent judgment regarding basic work processes. Work goals from day to day should be static and predictable. He should have only occasional, superficial contact with coworkers and the general public. He should learn job duties with verbal instructions.

[Id.] At step four, the ALJ found that Dixon was unable to perform his past relevant work of maintenance worker and driver. [Dkt. 8-2 at 27 (R. 26).] After considering Dixon's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that Dixon could perform the jobs of grader/sorter, general laborer, and handpicker, which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. [Dkt. 8-2 at 28 (R. 24).] Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Dixon was not disabled under the Act. [Id.]

         IV. Discussion

         Dixon makes several arguments as to why the ALJ's decision must be reversed, challenging the ALJ's RFC determination and step three analysis on several ...

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