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Keal v. Berryhill

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

July 31, 2017

MICHAEL A. KEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.

          DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

          Debra McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Michael A. Keal applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging disability beginning July 10, 2012. Acting for the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration following a hearing held on September 17, 2014, administrative law judge (ALJ) D. Lyndell Pickett issued a decision on October 28, 2014, concluding Mr. Keal is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review on February 26, 2016, rendering the ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Mr. Keal timely filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's decision.

         Mr. Keal contends the Commissioner's decision must be reversed and remanded because (1) the ALJ erred at step 4 because his residual capacity finding precludes the ability to perform Mr. Keal's past relevant “composite job”, (2) the ALJ erred by failing to analyze properly the opinion of the examining source, and (3) the ALJ neglected to consider Mr. Keal's stellar work history in assessing his credibility.

         The court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing disability claims and the standard of review and then address Mr. Keal's assertions of error.

         Standard for Proving Disability

         To prove disability, a claimant must show he is unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Mr. Keal is disabled if his impairments are of such severity that he is not able to perform the work he previously engaged in and, if based on his age, education, and work experience, he cannot engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has implemented these statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         Step one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled. Step two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, are severe; if they are not, then he is not disabled. A severe impairment is one that “significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has predetermined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in severity to the criteria for the most similar listed impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).

         If the claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then his residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do work on a regular and continuing basis despite his impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the RFC to perform his past relevant work, then he is not disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his age, work experience, education, and RFC; if so, then he is not disabled.

         The individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, given his age, education, work experience, and functional capacity. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2).

         Standard for Review of the ALJ's Decision

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence means evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).

         The ALJ is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate, justification for the decision to accept or reject specific evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ's decision need not address every piece of evidence, but the ALJ cannot ignore an entire line of evidence that undermines the ALJ's conclusions, and the ALJ must connect the evidence to his or her conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Analysis

         I. The ALJ's ...


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