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Reed v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

GERALD REED, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This is an action for judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) finding Plaintiff Gerald Reed not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), from March 4, 2011 through September 11, 2014. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI after concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled and that he could perform past relevant work. This case was referred to Magistrate Judge Baker for a report and recommendation, which he issued on January 20, 2017, holding that the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence. This cause is now before us on Plaintiff's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation.


         Plaintiff, Gerald Reed, at the time of his administrative hearing, was 46 years old. Plaintiff is a chiropractor (practicing from February 2007 through his alleged onset date of March 4, 2011). He has also held jobs as an auto salesperson, teacher, and chemist.

         Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits relates primarily to back and hip problems and pain stemming from to a 1986 car accident in which Plaintiff's pelvis, femur, and left patella were fractured. On August 2, 2011, Plaintiff underwent a total hip arthroplasty. According to his medical records, by September 12, 2011, Plaintiff's progress was “wonderful” and he was very happy with the results of the surgery.

         Plaintiff's medical records reveal a 7-month gap following September 12, 2011. On April 9, 2012, he returned to the orthopedic clinic complaining of lower back pain with radiating pain in his legs. Based on the findings of a CT scan and his doctor's recommendation, Plaintiff opted for back surgery, which was conducted on June 6, 2012. As compared to his preoperative state, Plaintiff's symptoms of radiculopathy and back pain improved so that, in July 2012, his surgeon determined that he was healing at a satisfactory rate, although Plaintiff was still using the assistance of crutches to walk.

         During August of 2012, Plaintiff moved from Illinois to Indiana. Dr. Travis Richardson, Plaintiff's treating orthopedist, wrote a letter on Plaintiff's behalf opining that Plaintiff was unable to maintain a full-time job and that he met the criteria for Social Security disability. Dr. Richardson stated that Plaintiff “had a multilevel spine fusion decompression of [his] lumbar spine” and that his use of narcotics and pain medications would affect his judgment. Dr. Richardson explained that Plaintiff suffers from chronic hip pain following his total hip arthroplasty and that he has experienced a loss in range of motion in his hip and back.

         On January 29, 2013, as part of Plaintiff's disability application process, Dr. Ami Rice examined Plaintiff and concluded that the clinical evidence did not support the need for an ambulatory aid. She noted that Plaintiff had tenderness along his back, had limited motion in his left hip and ankle and lumbar spine, but had full ranges of motion in his upper extremities and no radiating back pain.

         Plaintiff's claims for benefits were denied initially on February 11, 2013, and upon reconsideration on March 7, 2013. Plaintiff requested and received an administrative hearing, which was held on May 13, 2013, at which he testified. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with certain exceptions, and that he was capable of performing his past relevant work as a salesperson, teacher, chemist, and auto salesperson. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ decision in this action, contending that the ALJ's decision was in error on four grounds: the ALJ selectively reviewed the evidence of his back impairments; the ALJ improperly evaluated Dr. Richardson's opinion; the ALJ erred in analyzing Plaintiff's credibility; and the ALJ improperly prohibited Plaintiff from testifying about the physiology of his atrophy.

         The parties appeared before Magistrate Judge Tim Baker on December 20, 2016 for oral argument in connection with this appeal of the ALJ's conclusions, on the basis of which, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation that affirmed the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff then filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on February 3, 2017, which we address below.

         Standard of Review

         We review the Commissioner's denial of benefits to determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or is the result of an error of law. Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 368-69 (7th Cir. 2004); Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). “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). In our review of the ALJ's decision, we will not “reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute our own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. However, the 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 must “build an accurate and logical bridge” from the evidence in the record to his or her final conclusion. Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. 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. 2011).

         When a party raises specific objections to elements of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court reviews those elements de novo, determining for itself 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 court “makes the ultimate decision to adopt, reject, or modify” the report and recommendation, and it need not accept any portion as binding; the court may, however, defer to those conclusions of the report and ...

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