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White v. Berryhill

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

March 2, 2017

CHARLES V. WHITE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Charles White requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Court rules as follows.


         White protectively filed applications for SSI and DIB on August 29, 2012, alleging onset of disability on December 24, 2010. The Social Security Administration initially denied White's application on October 12, 2012. After White timely requested reconsideration, the Social Security Administration again denied his claim on March 7, 2013. Thereafter, White requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ held a hearing on June 5, 2014, at which White testified along with medical expert Lee Fischer, M.D., who is board certified in family practice medicine; Don Olive, Ph.D., who is a licensed clinical psychologist; and Gail Corn, a vocational expert. The ALJ issued his decision denying White's DIB and SSI applications on August 7, 2014. After the Appeals Council denied White's request for review, he filed this action seeking judicial review.


         Disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent his from doing not only his previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering his age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity he is not disabled, despite his medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).[2] At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities), he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelvemonth duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

         In reviewing the ALJ's decision, 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., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” he must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and [his] conclusion that a claimant is not disabled.” Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). “If a decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, a remand is required.” Id. (citation omitted).


         The ALJ found at step one that White had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 24, 2010, the alleged disability onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that White had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; borderline intelligence; and depression. The ALJ found at step three that these impairments did not, individually or in combination, meet the severity of one of the listed impairments. The ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was as follows:

[T]he claimant retains the residual functional capacity to [perform] light work as defined by the regulations In this regard, the claimant can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, sit for six hours in an eight-hour work day, and stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour work day. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, and climb ramps or stairs. He can never kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure to extremes of heat and cold, or dust, fumes, and other irritants. He would need to avoid working at unprotected heights. In addition, the claimant can perform simple repetitive work that would de-emphasize literacy skills (e.g., he would receive no written instructions, but would be given verbal instructions instead). The claimant could not work with money. He could not do fast-paced work.

         Record at 40. On the basis of this RFC determination, the ALJ concluded at step four that White was unable to perform his past relevant work, but at step five, the ALJ found that, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy” that he could perform.[3] Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that White was not disabled.


         The details of White's medical history are set forth quite thoroughly in the ALJ's decision and White's brief, and need not be repeated here. Facts directly relevant to ...

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