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Kelley v. Berryhill

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

March 27, 2017

Michael Kelley, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy Berryhill, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Michael Kelley applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on February 26, 2013, alleging an onset date of March 31, 2010. [Filing No. 14-5 at 2-14.] His applications were denied initially on June 26, 2013, [Filing No. 14-4 at 2-19], and upon reconsideration on August 21, 2013, [Filing No. 14-4 at 21-26]. Administrative Law Judge Lisa Martin (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on November 12, 2014, [Filing No. 14-2 at 30-53], and issued a decision on February 13, 2015, concluding that Mr. Kelley was not entitled to receive disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income, [Filing No. 14-2 at 13-22]. The Appeals Council denied review on April 25, 2016. [Filing No. 14-2 at 2-4.] Mr. Kelley then filed this civil action, asking the Court to review the denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). [Filing No. 1.]

         I.

         Background

         Mr. Kelley was thirty six years old when he filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. [Filing No. 14-5 at 2.] He has previous work experience as a forklift driver, a construction worker, a tool rental clerk, and an airport worker. [Filing No. 14-2 at 33-36; Filing No. 14-2 at 48-49.][2] Using the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ issued an opinion on February 13, 2015, determining that Mr. Kelley was not entitled to receive disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income. [Filing No. 14-2 at 13-22.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Kelley had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[3] since March 31, 2010, the alleged onset date. [Filing No. 14-2 at 15.]
• At Step Two of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Kelley suffers from the following severe impairments: cervical disorder and lumbar spine disorder with radiculopathy. [Filing No. 14-2 at 15-16.]
• At Step Three of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Kelley did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 14-2 at 16.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, the ALJ found that Mr. Kelley has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at the light exertional level as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), with the following limitations: “[T]he claimant needs a brief, one to two minute, opportunity as often as every 30 minutes to change positions. He must not perform ladders, ropes, or scaffolds climbing, and he is limited to occasional postural motions otherwise. He must not perform work around dangerous work hazards including unprotected heights and exposed machinery. Because of pain symptoms causing some distractions and preventing detailed decision making, the claimant is limited to routine, uninvolved tasks not requiring a fast assembly quota pace, and not requiring more than occasional work interactions with coworkers, supervisors, and public.” [Filing No. 14-2 at 17-20.]
• At Step Four of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Kelley is unable to perform any past relevant work. [Filing No. 14-2 at 20.]
• At Step Five of the analysis, the ALJ found that considering Mr. Kelley's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Mr. Kelley can perform - specifically, ticket taker, price marker, and mailroom clerk. [Filing No. 14-2 at 21.]

         II.

         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 ...


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