United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
ELLIOTT D. KIRKLING, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S
Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge
Elliott Kirkling applied for disability insurance benefits
under the Social Security Act (“SSA”) on December
4, 2012. [Filing No. 14-5 at 2.] Mr. Kirkling also applied
for supplemental security income on November 26, 2012.
[Filing No. 14-5 at 4.] Mr. Kirkling alleged a disability
onset date of May 15, 2011. [Filing No. 14-5 at 2.] His
applications were denied initially on February 4, 2013,
[Filing No. 14-4 at 6; Filing No. 14-4 at 15], and upon
reconsideration on June 13, 2013, [Filing No. 14-4 at 25;
Filing No. 14-4 at 32]. Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Christopher Helms held a hearing on April
8, 2015, [Filing No. 14-2 at 33], and issued a decision on
May 15, 2015, concluding that Mr. Kirkling was not disabled
as defined by the SSA, [Filing No. 14-2 at 10-25]. The
Appeals Council denied review on August 23, 2016, rendering
the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision
subject to judicial review. [Filing No. 14-2 at 2.] Mr.
Kirkling then filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), asking the Court to review the denial of benefits.
[Filing No. 1.]
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.
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).
must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in
(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
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).
Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“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. See 20 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.
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 factual issues
have been resolved and the record can yield but one
supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation
Kirkling was born in 1980 and has at least a high school
education with previous work experience as a restaurant
worker and packing line worker. [Filing No. 14-2 at
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 May 15, 2015, determining that Mr. Kirkling was
not entitled to receive disability benefits or supplemental
security income. [Filing No. 14-2 at 10-26.] The ALJ found as
• At Step One, the ALJ found that Mr. Kirkling had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date. [Filing No. 14-2 at 15.]
• At Step Two, the ALJ found Mr. Kirkling suffered from
the following severe impairments: “status post 2003 car
accident resulting in a major dysfunction of the joints -
bilateral knees, legs and left foot droop with residual
effects from a traumatic brain injury.” [Filing No.
14-2 at 15.]
• At Step Three, the ALJ found that Mr. Kirkling 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 17.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, the ALJ found
that Mr. Kirkling had the RFC to perform “sedentary
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a)
except the claimant could lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently; stand/walk for a total of two hours
in an eight-hour workday and sit for six hours in an
eight-hour workday; sit for 10 minutes at one time and stand
for 30 minutes at one time; never climb ladders, ropes,
scaffolds, kneel or crawl; occasionally climb ramps and
stairs; occasionally balance; occasionally stoop and crouch;
avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and vibration and
avoid even moderate exposure to wetness, moving mechanical
parts and unprotected heights. The claimant is also limited
to simple, routine and repetitive tasks; occasional
interaction with supervisors, coworkers and the public and
the claimant is limited to tolerating few changes in a
routine work setting (i.e. essentially doing the same job
from day to day).” [Filing No. 14-2 at 17-18.]
• At Step Four, the ALJ found that Mr. Kirkling is
unable to perform any past relevant work. ...