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Niles v. Berryhill

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

September 20, 2017

SCOTT T. NILES, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Scott T. Niles (“Niles”), appeals the Administrative Law Judge's decision denying his applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 636, the Court referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge (Filing No. 22), who submitted his Report and Recommendation on June 16, 2017, recommending that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed and remanded for further consideration (Filing No. 23). The Commissioner timely filed an Objection to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Filing No. 24). For the reasons set forth below, the Court OVERRULES the Commissioner's Objection, ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation, and REMANDS the decision of the Commissioner for further consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The relevant procedural history and factual background of this matter are set forth in detail in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Filing No. 23) and the parties briefs (Filing No. 19 and Filing No. 20) and thus will only be summarized in this Order.

         Niles filed an application for DIB on February 28, 2013, and for SSI on March 2, 2013, alleging April 1, 2011, as the disability onset date. In his disability applications, Niles asserted the following impairments: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, asthma, and obesity (Filing No. 17-3 at 14). His applications were denied initially on May 17, 2013, and again on reconsideration on July 1, 2013. Niles timely requested a hearing on his applications, which was held before Administrative Law Judge Ronald T. Jordan (“ALJ”) on February 3, 2015. The ALJ then issued his decision on February 19, 2015, denying Niles's applications, having determined that he was not disabled. Niles sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. On June 20, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Niles's request to review the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.

         Niles timely filed his Complaint with the Court on August 18, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. On May 12, 2017, this Court issued an order referring the matter to the Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation. The Magistrate Judge filed his Report and Recommendation on June 16, 2017, recommending remand of the case for further consideration. Thereafter, on June 28, 2017, the Commissioner filed her Objection to the Report and Recommendation, asserting that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision and the decision was sufficiently explained. Although not explicitly argued, the Commissioner appears to assert that the Magistrate Judge improperly reweighed the evidence when making his recommendation to remand the case for further consideration.

         Niles was born in November 1972 and was 46 years old at the time of his alleged disability onset date. He has suffered various mental health impairments, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, for a number of years. He has sought treatment from mental health care providers through counseling, individual therapy, group therapy, and medication management. Niles's treatment has had varying degrees of effectiveness over time. His treatment records show that he has had times of compliance with medications and therapy and other times when he has been less compliant with his treatment plan. One of his treatment notes indicates that Niles is seriously mentally ill and has attempted suicide multiple times (Filing No. 17-7 at 27).

         Niles has a bachelor's degree and an employment history of working as a social services aide, census taker, and security guard. He has been involved in some volunteer work, and he fairly regularly attends church. However, Niles's activities of daily living and his ability to work have been affected by his various mental health impairments. Thus, he applied for SSI and DIB.


         When the Court reviews the Commissioner's decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. The Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ “need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted.” Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence in her decision, and while she “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” she must “provide some glimpse into her reasoning . . . [and] build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. The Court “must be able to trace the ALJ's path of reasoning” from the evidence to her conclusion. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 874 (7th Cir. 2000).

         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. See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 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 . . . to which timely objections have not been raised by a party.” Sweet v. Colvin, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141893, at *3 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 30, 2013) (citing Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 759-61 (7th Cir. 2009)).


         In his appeal of the ALJ's decision, Niles advanced two primary arguments: (1) the ALJ did not adequately explain his rationale for giving a treating physician's opinion little weight, and (2) the ALJ erred by not utilizing a portion of a consulting physician's functional capacity assessment while utilizing another portion of this physician's assessment.

         Concerning this second argument, the Magistrate Judge explained that the ALJ committed no error warranting remand because Niles selectively quoted only a portion of the consulting physician's assessment while ignoring the portion of the assessment that supported the ALJ's analysis and conclusion. Neither party objected to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation regarding this second argument, and there is no error of law or fact in the Magistrate Judge's analysis and conclusion; therefore, the Court adopts this portion of the Report and ...

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