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Burton v. Berryhill

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

March 23, 2017

THOMAS E. BURTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1]Defendant.

          ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge.

         Plaintiff Thomas E. Burton requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Burton's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, rules as follows.

         I. APPLICABLE STANDARD

         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 him from doing not only his previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which 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).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Burton first applied for DIB in August 2009, alleging that he had been disabled since August 24, 2009. After his application was denied initially and on reconsideration, Burton requested and was granted a hearing in front of an ALJ. On May 17, 2011, Mr. Burton appeared without counsel at an administrative hearing before ALJ John D. McNamee-Alemany. The hearing was continued so that Burton could obtain a representative. On October 4, 2011, Burton appeared with counsel and testified at an administrative hearing before ALJ JoAnn L. Anderson. Robert Lessne testified as a vocational expert. On October 28, 2011, ALJ Anderson decided that Mr. Burton was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Burton's request for review. Burton appealed to this Court, and in March 2014, this Court reversed and remanded the Commissioner's final decision.

         In December 2012, Burton reapplied for DIB and applied for SSI. He alleged that he had been disabled since October 29, 2011-the day after ALJ Anderson's decision. On July 26, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded Burton's 2009 claims to an ALJ for readjudication pursuant to the Court's March 2014 disposition. The Appeals Council also ordered the ALJ on remand to consolidate Mr. Burton's 2012 applications with his earlier applications. On March 5, 2015, Burton appeared with counsel and testified at an administrative hearing before ALJ James R. Norris. In addition, Darius Ghazi, M.D., testified as an orthopedist medical expert; Jack Thomas, Ph.D., testified as a psychological medical expert; and Gail Franklin testified as a vocational expert. The ALJ issued his decision denying Burton's claim on April 8, 2015. After the Appeals Council denied his request for review, Burton filed this timely appeal.

         Burton was born on August 1, 1968, and was 41 years old on the alleged disability onset date. He is a high school graduate and is able to communicate in English, but he is illiterate.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ found that Burton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his August 24, 2009 alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Burton had a “severe combination of impairments that includes cervical and lumbar degenerative disease, knee arthritis, residual left carpal tunnel syndrome, residuals from a left thumb laceration, myofascial pain syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep disorder, obesity, and headaches as well as depression, anxiety and mild intellectual disability.” R. at 563. The ALJ found that Burton did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526).

         At step four, the ALJ found that Burton had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform

a limited range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant could lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and up to ten pounds frequently; the claimant has no restrictions on his abilities to sit and stand; he could stoop occasionally, but could not bend repetitively or . . . climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds; he is restricted to performing simple and repetitive tasks, with only occasional contact with the general public, co-workers and supervisors and no fast paced or assembly line work. The claimant cannot read or write.

R. at 566. Given this RFC, the ALJ determined that Burton was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ relied on Medical-Vocational Guidelines (Grid) Rule 202.20 as a framework with vocational-expert testimony to decide that Burton was not disabled. The ALJ found that Burton could perform two occupations in specified instances: housekeeper (DOT #323.687-014) and laundry worker (DOT #302.685-010). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Burton was not disabled as defined by the Act.

         IV. EVIDENCE OF RECORD

         The relevant medical evidence of record is aptly set forth in Burton's brief (Dkt. No. 15) and need not be recited here. Specific facts are set forth in the discussion section below where relevant.

         V. DISCUSSION

         In his brief in support of his complaint, Burton advances two arguments: (1) the ALJ failed to comply with SSR 00-4p; and (2) the ALJ committed error when he concluded ...


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