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Davis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

October 6, 2017

DUSTY D. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         The deciding issue in this Social Security appeal is whether the Administrative Law Judge adequately supported his conclusion that Plaintiff Dusty Davis's condition did not medically equal any listing. The Court's role is not to second-guess an ALJ's determination- especially on close calls. By the same token, however, the Court cannot make factual determinations for the ALJ. As explained below, the Court finds that the ALJ failed to adequately address medical equivalence and grants Plaintiffs request for remand [Filing No. 17] under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further consideration.

         Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiffs alleged obesity, erred in weighing medical sources and assessing Plaintiffs credibility, and was overly selective in citing evidence to support his residual functional capacity conclusion without addressing evidence that favored Plaintiff. On remand, the ALJ should reconsider these issues in light of Plaintiff s arguments and changes the Social Security Administration made while this appeal was pending.

         II. Background

         In November 2013, Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income claiming he had been disabled since December 2011, due to kidney disease and gouty arthropathy. Plaintiff claimed total disability because he allegedly suffered nausea and vomiting for two to three hours each morning, his legs swelled and hurt if he went too long without elevating them, and his wrists and hands hurt, all of which prevented him from working.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have substantial gainful employment for the relevant period. In the second step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments, chronic kidney disease and gouty arthropathy. Plaintiff claims that he also had obesity.[1]

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal any listing under 20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404, Subpart P, App. 1. Though the ALJ explained that the evidence did not show Plaintiff met any listing, the only mention of equivalence in his decision was in the relevant subsection's heading. The hearing transcript shows that the ALJ asked Dr. Lee Fischer his opinion regarding the listings, and Dr. Fischer opined that Plaintiff did not “meet or equal any of the listings.” [Filing No. 14-2, at ECF p. 35, R. at 34.] Dr. Fischer was the only physician to testify about the listings at the hearing. However, the ALJ only referenced Dr. Fischer in regard to Plaintiff's RFC.

         In his step four discussion, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not able to perform any past relevant work as a saw supervisor. However, proceeding to step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled because he can perform unskilled or semi-skilled sedentary work, such as surveillance service systems monitor, coupon counter, or order clerk.

         Though he found Plaintiff had severe impairments, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff's claimed symptoms had not been shown. Rather, Plaintiff had the RFC to perform limited sedentary work. The ALJ discounted Plaintiff's testimony, finding his “statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of [his] symptoms not entirely credible, ” citing specific medical appointments in which Plaintiff failed to mention symptoms. [Filing No. 14-2, at ECF p. 20-21, R. at 19-20.] The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's RFC allowed him to “occasionally and frequently lift, carry, push, and pull ten pounds, ” “stand and walk two hours of an eight-hour day, ” and “sit for six hours of an eight-hour workday.” [Filing No. 14-2, at ECF p. 20, R. at 19.]

         III. Discussion

         The Court must uphold the ALJ's decision if substantial evidence supports her findings. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). The ALJ is obliged to consider all relevant medical evidence and cannot cherry-pick facts that support a finding of nondisability while ignoring evidence that points to a disability finding. Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). If evidence contradicts the ALJ's conclusions, the ALJ must confront that evidence and explain why it was rejected. Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1123 (7th Cir. 2014). The ALJ, however, need not mention every piece of evidence, so long as she builds a logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion. Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir. 2013).

         a. Medical Equivalency

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider and analyze whether Plaintiff's impairments medically equaled the relevant listings. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ did not err because demonstrating equivalence is Plaintiff's burden and Plaintiff did not cite sources that show medical equivalence. However, the claimant's burden is merely to produce evidence in support of the claim, not to prove equivalence. SeeEichstadt v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 668 (7th Cir. 2008). ...

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