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Holloway v. Colvin

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

March 6, 2017

KENNETH E. HOLLOWAY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         On May 7, 2008, Kenneth E. Holloway filed a claim for disability insurance benefits alleging an onset date of June 15, 2007. [Filing No. 47-8 at 123.] His claim was initially denied on September 9, 2008, and upon reconsideration on February 26, 2009. [Filing No. 47 at 16.] Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Ann Rybolt held a hearing on September 29, 2010, and issued a decision on November 17, 2010, finding Mr. Holloway has been disabled since February 1, 2009. [Filing No. 47-8 at 123.] Mr. Holloway appealed the decision, and the Appeals Council upheld the decision. [Filing No. 47-8 at 123.] Mr. Holloway then appealed to the district court, and on November 27, 2012, the district court issued a remand, noting that part of the hearing recording was missing. [Filing No. 25.] The Appeals Council issued an order on October 17, 2013, affirming the ALJ's conclusion that Mr. Holloway has been disabled since February 1, 2009, and vacating the ALJ's decision with respect to the issue of disability for the period of time before the established onset date of February 1, 2009. [Filing No. 47-8 at 123.]

         The case was assigned to a new ALJ, but he was reassigned to other duties and unable to render a decision. [Filing No. 47-8 at 123.] The case was then reassigned to ALJ Albert J. Velasquez, who held a hearing on April 14, 2015, and rendered a decision on June 9, 2015, concluding that Mr. Holloway was not disabled before the established onset date of February 1, 2009. [Filing No. 47-8 at 123-36.] The Appeals Council denied review on January 19, 2016, [Filing No. 47-8 at 112], making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision subject to judicial review, [Filing No. 47-8 at 123-36]. Mr. Holloway filed a petition to reopen the case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), asking this Court to review his denial of benefits. [Filing No. 36.]

         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 to support 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 residual functional capacity (“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.

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