United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
GLENN A. COOPER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
EVANS BARKER, JUDGE
an action for judicial review of the final decision of
Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration, finding Plaintiff Glenn A.
Cooper not entitled to social security supplemental insurance
(“SSI”) and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II and Title XVI of the
Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§
416(i), 423(d), 1382(a). The Commissioner has filed a timely
objection to the Report and Recommendation by Magistrate
Judge Mark J. Dinsmore that the Commissioner's decision
be reversed and remanded. For the reasons explained in this
Order, we OVERRULE the Commissioner's
objections, ADOPT the conclusions of the Magistrate
Judge, and REMAND this case for further
for Proving Disability
eligible for SSI or DIB, a claimant like Mr. Cooper must have
a disability defined by 42 U.S.C. § 423 as an
“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.” In general, the
claimant bears the burden of providing evidence that he is
disabled, and he must show through record evidence that an
impairment from which he suffers meets all applicable
criteria. See, e.g., Ribaudo v. Barnhart,
458 F.3d 580, 583 (7th Cir. 2006). The Commissioner acting by
and through an ALJ conducts a five-step analysis to make an
eligibility determination: (1) if the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled despite his
medical condition and other factors; (2) 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; (3) the Commissioner
then determines whether the claimant's impairment or a
combination thereof meets or medically equals any impairment
appearing in the Listing of Impairments at 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the
twelve-month duration requirement; if so, the claimant is
disabled; (4) if the claimant can perform his past relevant
work given his Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”), he is not disabled; and (5) if the
claimant can perform any other work in the national economy,
he is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
Standard of Review
Court reviews the Commissioner's denial of benefits to
determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or
is the result of an error of law. Pepper v. Colvin,
712 F.3d 351, 361-62 (7th Cir. 2015). “Substantial
evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir.
2001). An ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration
of “all the relevant evidence, ” without ignoring
probative factors. Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329,
333 (7th Cir. 1994). In other words, the ALJ need not address
every piece of evidence in her decision, but she cannot
ignore a line of evidence that undermines her conclusions,
and she must trace the path of her reasoning and connect the
evidence to her findings and conclusions. Arnett v.
Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012). We confine
the scope of our review to the rationale offered by the ALJ.
See SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 93-95 (1943);
Tumminaro v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir.
party raises specific objections to elements of a magistrate
judge's report and recommendation, the district judge
reviews those elements de novo, determining for
herself whether the Commissioner's decision as to those
issues is supported by substantial evidence or was the result
of an error of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The district judge
“makes the ultimate decision to adopt, reject, or
modify” the report and recommendation, and it need not
accept any portion as binding; the [judge] may, however,
defer to those conclusions of the report and recommendation
to which timely objections have not been raised by a party.
See Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs, Inc., 577 F.3d
752, 759-61 (7th Cir. 2009).
and Procedural History
Cooper filed an application for SSI and DBI on March 11,
2013, asserting that he suffered from nerve damage and
pinched nerves in his neck, pain in his right shoulder and
neck, headaches and migraines, and muscle spasms. Record
[Docket No. 14-2] at 158. After the Social Security
Administration denied Mr. Cooper's applications for DIB
and SSI initially and on reconsideration, an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) engaged in the sequential
five-step analysis and concluded that Mr. Cooper was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act for
the relevant period of time. The ALJ's dispositive
findings were that although Mr. Cooper was severely impaired
by degenerative disc disease, headaches, and obesity, his
disc disease did not meet or medically equal Listing 1.00 for
musculoskeletal impairments and, although he was incapable of
performing his past relevant work, there were certain
“sedentary” jobs in the national economy
available to him notwithstanding his limitations. R. at
19-30. The ALJ did not mention in her discussion of Mr.
Cooper's degenerative disc disease any sublisting within
1.00, nor did she specifically address whether Mr.
Cooper's headaches and migraines met or were medically
equivalent to any listed impairment. R. at 21-22.
Cooper sought further review, and the Appeals Council denied
his request on September 14, 2015. R. at 1-4. At this point,
the Commissioner's decision became final, Varga v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015), and Mr.
Cooper timely exercised his right to judicial review of the
Commissioner's adverse decision under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Before this court, Mr. Cooper argued-in what is
relevant to this appeal-that the ALJ failed to (1) consider
his migraines under Listing 11.03; (2) obtain a medical
opinion regarding the Listing considerations; (3) discuss his
headaches in relation to his ability to perform and maintain
employment; and (4) address the impact on his ability to work
caused by the side effects of his medication. Pl.'s Br.
[Docket No. 17] at 9-10.
case was referred to Magistrate Judge Dinsmore for initial
consideration. On August 9, 2016, Magistrate Judge Dinsmore
issued a Report and Recommendation that the
Commissioner's decision be reversed and remanded.
Specifically, Magistrate Judge Dinsmore identified at least
five independent grounds for remand to correct omissions in
the ALJ's analysis and to allow the ALJ to consider
evidence that she apparently ignored. Docket No. 20 at 4-15.
This case is now before the Court on the Commissioner's
Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and
appeal involves the third and fourth steps of the sequential
evaluation process. The third step of the sequential
evaluation process addresses whether a claimant's
impairment or a combination thereof meets or medically equals
any impairment set out in the Listing of Impairments at 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1. Step four addresses whether
a claimant is capable of performing past relevant work on a
regular and continuing basis despite any impairment-related
limitations, which is determined through an RFC assessment.
20 C.F.R. § 1545.
Commissioner raises two objections to the Magistrate
Judge's Report and Recommendation. Def.'s Obj.
[Docket No. 21] at 1-3. First, according to the Commissioner,
there was no error in the ALJ's use of medical expert
opinions with regard to determining whether Mr. Cooper's
headaches and migraines met or equaled a listed impairment.
Def.'s Obj. at 1-2. Second, the Commissioner contends
that the Magistrate Judge incorrectly interpreted the
ALJ's decision regarding the side effects of Mr.