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Fernandez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 29, 2017

VICTOR F. FERNANDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A BERRYHILL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Victor F. Fernandez on August 8, 2016, and Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 16], filed by Plaintiff on February 17, 2017. Plaintiff requests that the February 24, 2015 decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits be remanded for further proceedings. On May 1, 2017, the Commissioner filed a response, and Plaintiff filed a reply on May 24, 2017. For the following reasons, the Court grants the request to remand for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On January 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning July 3, 2012. The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held on July 19, 2013, before ALJ Jason C. Earnhart in Valparaiso, Indiana. Also in attendance were Plaintiff, his non-attorney representative, an impartial vocational expert, and a vocational expert in training who was at the hearing as an observer. On February 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits, making the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 3, 2012, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: open reduction and internal fixation of broken right ankle, obesity, and open angle residual glaucoma.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except the claimant can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps, stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. He can occasionally use foot controls with the right leg. He can have frequent exposure to moving mechanical parts and to unprotected heights.
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as janitor (COT# 382.664-010), a floor waxer (DOT# 381.687-034), and a warehouse laborer (DOT# 922.687-058). This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity.
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from July 3, 2012, through the date of this decision.

(AR 20-28).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. 404.981. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the Agency's decision.

         The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final decision of the agency and indicates that the Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2003)).

         A court reviews the entire administrative record but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ “uses the correct legal standards and the decision is supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). “[I]f the Commissioner commits an error of ...


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