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Ross v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2017

BOBBY M. ROSS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.


          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge.

         Plaintiff Bobby Ross requests judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The Court rules as follows.


         Ross protectively filed his application for DIB in October 2011, alleging onset of disability on September 21, 2011. The Social Security Administration initially denied Ross's application on March 7, 2012. After Ross timely requested reconsideration, the Social Security Administration again denied his claim on August 7, 2012. Thereafter, Ross requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ held a hearing on February 11, 2014, at which Ross and a vocational expert testified. The ALJ issued his decision denying Ross's DIB application on March 14, 2014. After the Appeals Council denied Ross'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 him 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). 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 Ross had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 21, 2011, the alleged disability onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Ross had the following severe impairments: cerebral palsy; degenerative disc disease; degenerative joint disease in the left knee and left shoulder; periodic movement disorder; learning disability, math; anxiety; and depression. The ALJ found at step three that these impairments did not, individually or in combination, meet or equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. The ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination was as follows:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant can lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; stand and walk for six hours out of eight hours; and sit for six of eight hours, provided the work permits him to alternate to a sitting or standing position at his option for one to two minutes each hour. He can occasionally climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds and occasionally balance, stoop, or crouch but never kneel or crawl. He should avoid overhead work with the left shoulder. The claimant should not work around unprotected heights or around dangerous moving machinery, operate a motor vehicle, or work around open bodies of water or open flames. He should avoid work around concentrated exposure [to] extremes of temperatures and humidity. He should not have work that requires mathematics above level 1 or that requires more than 2-3 steps per task. Lastly, the work should not require more than superficial interaction with the public, co-workers or supervisors.

         Record at 21. The ALJ concluded at step four that Ross could not perform his past relevant work as an electrician and dryer operator. At step five, the ALJ found that, considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform, including hand packager, production worker, and injection molding machine tender. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Ross was not disabled.

         IV. DISCUSSION [2]

         Ross argues that the ALJ erred in several respects, each of which is addressed, in turn, below.

         A. Failure to Address All ...

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