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Delong v. Berryhill

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

July 31, 2017

TIMOTHY A. DELONG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, United States District Court Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Timothy DeLong applied for disability insurance benefits from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on February 11, 2010, alleging an onset date of June 6, 2008. [Filing No. 12-4 at 7.] His application was denied initially on April 20, 2010, and upon reconsideration on July 28, 2010. [Filing No. 12-4 at 7.] Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Angela Miranda held a video hearing on August 23, 2011, and issued a decision on November 29, 2011, concluding that Mr. DeLong was not entitled to receive benefits. [Filing No. 12-4 at 7-18.] On October 18, 2012, the Appeals Council vacated and remanded the ALJ's decision after it received additional evidence. [Filing No. 12-4 at 22-23.] On September 24, 2013, the ALJ held another video hearing, [Filing No. 12-2 at 52], and issued a decision on August 26, 2014, concluding once again that Mr. DeLong was not entitled to receive benefits. [Filing No. 12-2 at 32-46.] The Appeals Council denied review on March 14, 2016, [Filing No. 12-2 at 3], rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of the SSA (the “Commissioner”), [Filing No. 12-2 at 32-46]. Mr. DeLong then filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), requesting that the Court review the Commissioner's decision. [Filing No. 1.]

         I.

         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 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. 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 factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).

         II.

         Background

         Mr. DeLong was born in 1964, [Filing No. 12-2 at 65], has completed some college, [Filing No. 12-2 at 68], and has previous work experience as a warehouse worker, [Filing No. 12-2 at 44].[1] 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 August 26, 2014, determining that Mr. DeLong was not entitled to receive disability benefits. [Filing No. 12-2 at 32-46.] The ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. DeLong had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[2] since the alleged onset date. [Filing No. 12-2 at 35.]
• At Step Two of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. DeLong suffered from the following severe impairments: “(1) back impairments variously assessed as dextroscoliosis, chronic compression deformities of T10 and T11, levoscoliosis, disc degeneration of T12-L1 and L1-L2, and scoliosis; (2) cervical spine dysfunction described as mild cervical spondylosis; (3) mild developmental dysplasia of the right hip and sciatica; and (4) mental impairments assessed as anxiety, depression, and memory loss likely secondary to depression and anxiety.” [Filing No. 12-2 at 34.]
• At Step Three of the analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. DeLong did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of ...

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