United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
WENDELL D. PARKER, Plaintiff,
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, CHIEF JUDGE
Plaintiff, Wendell D. Parker, seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration denying his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits. The Plaintiff alleges that his disability
began on February 23, 2012. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
conducted a hearing in May 2015, at which the Plaintiff-who
was represented by an attorney-and a vocational expert (VE)
testified. On July 10, 2015, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff
has severe impairments of obesity and hypersomnia with
obstructive sleep apnea requiring tracheostomy. However, the
ALJ ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff is not disabled
because he can perform a limited range of sedentary work. On
October 26, 2016, the Appeals Council denied the
Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the Commissioner's final decision. The Plaintiff
then initiated this civil action for judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision.
DECISION (FIVE-STEP EVALUATION)
Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be used in determining whether the
claimant has established a disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). A disability under the Social
Security Act is defined as being 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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An applicant
must show that his “impairments are of such severity
that he is not only unable to do his previous work but
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which
exists in the national economy.” Id. §
first step is to determine whether the claimant is presently
engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Here, the ALJ
found that the Plaintiff was not engaged in SGA, so he moved
on to the second step, which is to determine whether the
claimant had a “severe” impairment or combination
of impairments. An impairment is “severe” if it
significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1521(a). The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's
severe impairments are obesity and hypersomnia with
obstructive sleep apnea requiring tracheostomy. The ALJ found
that the Plaintiff's hypertension, asthma, GERD, and
diabetes were not severe and did not cause more than minimal
limitations on work-related activities. The ALJ concluded
that there were no significant objective medical findings to
support the Plaintiff's complaints of back pain, and that
his anxiety and depression were not severe.
three, the ALJ considered numerous impairment listings to
determine whether the Plaintiff had an impairment, or
combination of impairments, that meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the impairments listed by the
Administration as being so severe that it presumptively
precludes SGA. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
1. The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's impairments did
not meet or equal a listed impairment.
the ALJ was required, at step four, to determine the
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is
an assessment of the claimant's ability to perform
sustained work-related physical and mental activities in
light of his impairments. SSR 96-8p. In arriving at the RFC,
the ALJ acknowledged that the Plaintiff is clinically obese
and has been diagnosed with hypersomnia with sleep apnea. The
ALJ determined that due to these impairments and his
nonsevere impairments, considered singly and in combination,
the Plaintiff was not able to sustain the lifting and
carrying requirements of light or greater exertional work.
Therefore, he was limited to sedentary work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). The Plaintiff's severe
impairments also restricted him to sitting at least six hours
in an eight-hour workday, standing or walking two hours, and
lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling ten pounds frequently
and occasionally. His impairments further restricted him to
occasional crouching, crawling, kneeling, use of stairs and
ramps of one to two flights at a time, bending and stooping.
However, he could frequently balance. The ALJ determined that
the Plaintiff would not be able to drive motor vehicles and
forklifts or work within close proximity to open and
dangerous machinery or open and exposed heights. He could not
work outside, or have concentrated day-to-day exposure to
excessive amounts of airborne particulate, dust gases and
fumes, or extreme heat and cold. Finally, the tasks he
performed could not require prolonged conversation.
did not believe that the objective physical record supported
the severity of the symptoms that the Plaintiff alleged but,
rather, that the impairments required no more restrictions
than those listed in the RFC. According to the ALJ, providers
had noted that the Plaintiff had more energy and was sleeping
better since his tracheostomy, which had been performed in
January 2013. A May 2013 sleep study also showed that the
Plaintiff's severe obstructive sleep apnea syndrome had
improved with tracheostomy. Imaging of his chest showed no
acute disease. Although the Plaintiff was clinically obese
(he weighed 404 pounds and had a Body Mass. Index of
53.31), exams showed normal deep tendon reflexes,
normal extremities, normal gait, clear lungs, unlabored
respirations, no wheezing or rhonchi, normal heart, 5/5
strength in lower extremities, and ability to walk on heels,
toes, and tandem walk. (R. 20 (citing10/24/13 consultative
exam & 1/30/15 treatment notes).)
the RFC is established, the ALJ uses it to determine whether
the claimant can perform his past work and, if necessary,
whether the claimant can perform other work in the economy.
20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At this final step of the
evaluation, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff could not
perform his past work, but in light of his age, education,
work experience, and RFC, could perform other jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
decision of the ALJ is the final decision of the Commissioner
when the Appeals Council denies a request for review.
Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir.
2009). A court will affirm the Commissioner's findings of
fact and denial of disability benefits if they are supported
by substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d
668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be
“more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Even if “reasonable minds
could differ” about the disability status of the
claimant, the court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision, and the decision cannot stand if it lacks
evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the
is not required to address every piece of evidence or
testimony presented, but the ALJ must provide a
“logical bridge” between the evidence and the
conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th
Cir. 2009). If the Commissioner commits an error of law,
remand is warranted without regard to the volume of evidence
in support of the factual findings. Binion ...