United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
STEVEN R. HOWARD, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
LOZANO, United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court for review of the Commissioner of
Social Security's decision denying Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income to Plaintiff Steven
R. Howard, Jr. For the reasons set forth below, the decision
of the Commissioner is REVERSED and this case is REMANDED to
the Social Security Administration for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion pursuant to sentence four of 42
U.S.C. section 405(g).
March of 2010, Steven R. Howard, Jr. (“Howard”),
filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. section 401 et seq., and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. section 1381,
et. seq. Howard alleged that his disability began on
February 1, 2010. The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied his initial applications and also
denied his claims upon reconsideration.
requested a hearing, and on August 4, 2011, Howard appeared
with his attorney at an administration hearing before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Melody Paige.
Testimony was provided by Howard, the claimant's wife,
Rhianna Howard (“Rhianna”), and vocational expert
(“VE”) Thomas A. Gusloff. On September 15, 2011,
the ALJ issued a decision denying Howards's claim,
finding him not disabled because he could perform his past
relevant work as a wire harness assembler and buffing machine
operator. (Tr. 29.)
requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision, but that request was denied. Accordingly, the
ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final
decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(a). Howard
has initiated the instant action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
was born on August 23, 1977, and was 32 years old on the
alleged disability onset date of February 1, 2010. (Tr. 19,
228.) He completed high school and specialized job training
to obtain a commercial driver's license
(“CDL”). (Tr. 255.) His past relevant work
includes employment as a truck driver, material handler,
buffing machine operator, mixing machine operator, grounds
keeper, and wire harness assembler. (Tr. 29.) The medical
evidence has been set forth in detail in both the ALJ's
decision, Howard's opening brief, and the statement of
the case provided in support of the Commissioner. There is no
reason to repeat it all in detail here, although pertinent
details are discussed below as needed.
of Commissioner's Decision
Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision
to deny social security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as
to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive.” Id. Substantial evidence is
defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (citation omitted). In
determining whether substantial evidence exists, the Court
shall examine the record in its entirety, but shall not
substitute its own opinion for the ALJ's by reconsidering
the facts or reweighing the evidence. See Jens v.
Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003). While a
decision denying benefits need not address every piece of
evidence, the ALJ must provide a “logical bridge”
between the evidence and his conclusion that the claimant is
not disabled. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475
(7th Cir. 2009).
threshold matter, for a claimant to be eligible for DIB or
SSI benefits under the Social Security Act, the claimant must
establish that he is disabled. 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(1)(A) and 1382(a)(1). To qualify as being disabled,
the claimant must be unable “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. § 423(d)(1)(A). To determine
whether a claimant has satisfied this statutory definition,
the ALJ performs a five-step evaluation:
Step 1: Is the claimant performing substantially gainful
activity? If yes, the claim is disallowed; if no, the inquiry
proceeds to Step 2.
Step 2: Is the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments “severe” and expected to last at
least twelve months? If not, the claim is disallowed; if yes,
the inquiry proceeds to Step 3.
Step 3: Does the claimant have an impairment or combination
of impairments that meets or equals the severity of an
impairment in the SSA's Listing of Impairments, as
described in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1? If yes,
then claimant is automatically disabled; if not, then the
inquiry proceeds to Step 4.
Step 4: Is the claimant able to perform his past relevant
work? If yes, the claim is denied; if no, the inquiry
proceeds to Step 5, where the burden of proof shifts to the
Step 5: Is the claimant able to perform any other work within
his residual functional capacity in the national economy? If
yes, the claim is denied; if no, the claimant is disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v) and
416.920 (a)(4)(i)-(v); see also Herron v. Shalala,
19 F.3d 329, 333 n.8 (7th Cir. 1994).
case, the ALJ found that Howard had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2010, his
alleged onset date. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ found that Howard
suffered from the following severe impairments: diabetes
mellitus, hypertension, obesity, syncopal episodes or
seizures of unknown etiology, and headaches. (Id.)
However, the ALJ found that Howard did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and
416.926). (Tr. 22.) The ALJ made the following Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) determination:
[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform medium work as
defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) except: the
claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; the
claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, and
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; the claimant must
avoid even moderate exposure to hazards such as dangerous
machinery and unprotected heights; and, the claimant must
avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and extreme cold.
(Tr. 23.) Based upon Howard's RFC, the ALJ found that
Howard is able to perform his past relevant work as a wire
harness assembler and buffing machine operator as they are
generally and normally performed in the national economy.
believes that the ALJ committed several errors requiring
reversal when she failed to properly apply the law regarding
the listing of impairments, failed to properly apply the
evidence to her conclusions, improperly weighed evidence and
made her own medical decisions, did not include all necessary
restrictions or impairments when assessing the claimant's
RFC, and did not support her decision with substantial
Medical Evidence and Facts