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Burton v. Berryhill

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

February 22, 2017

Daniel W. Burton, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy Berryhill, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant. No. 1:16-cv-01270-JMS-MJD

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE

         On April 25, 2013, Daniel W. Burton filed a claim for disability insurance benefits alleging a disability onset date of February 10, 2013. [Filing No. 13-2 at 26.] His claim was initially denied on August 6, 2013, and upon reconsideration on September 17, 2013. A hearing was held on October 24, 2014 before Administrative Law Judge Mary F. Withum (the “ALJ”). [Filing No. 13-2 at 37-65.] The ALJ issued a decision on January 7, 2015, determining that Mr. Burton was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. [Filing No. 13-2 at 26-32.] The Appeals Council denied his request for review on April 11, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 13-2 at 2-7.] Mr. Burton then filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asking this Court to review his denial of benefits.

         I.

         Standard of Review

         “The 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.

         When an 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. 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 omitted).

         The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:

(1) whether 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 economy.

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).

         After 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 his own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See20 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.

         If the 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).

         II. Relevant Background

         Mr. Burton was 53 years old at the time of the hearing before the ALJ.[2] [Filing No. 13-5 at 2; Filing No. 13-2 at 26.] He finished the eleventh grade and earned a GED. [Filing No. 13-2 at 42.] His previous work experience includes working as a foreman, supervisor, and maintenance technician. [Filing No. 13-2 at 42.] Mr. Burton seeks disability benefits because of functional limitations due to degenerative disc disease, plantar fasciitis, kidney disease, and osteoarthritis. [Filing No. 13-2 at 40.]

         Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ ultimately concluded that Mr. Burton is not ...


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