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Frederick v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

November 14, 2017

WILLIAM E. FREDERICK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN UNITED STATES CHIEF JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, William E. Frederick, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied him disability benefits and supplemental security income and erred by failing to incorporate limitations from all of his medically determinable impairments, both severe and non-severe, into his Residual Functional Capacity and erred in failing to consider the combined impact of said impairments.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         On July 1, 2013, the Plaintiff filed his Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on December 2, 2011. (R. 16.) His claims were denied initially on November 1, 2013, and upon reconsideration on December 31, 2013. (Id.) On July 2, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Sharon D. Ringenberg, a vocational expert, also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On November 9, 2015, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding he was not disabled prior to his date last insured, March 31, 2014. (R. 16-30.) On December 30, 2016, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-3.)

         On February 26, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim [ECF No. 1] in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         Disability is defined as the “inability 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). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent him from doing not only his previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering his age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has been unable to engage in SGA from his alleged onset date, December 2, 2011, to his date last insured, March 31, 2014). (R. 18.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting his ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including obesity; osteoarthritis; diabetes mellitus with neuropathy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; sleep apnea; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); cervical disc disease, status post surgery; a history of B cell lymphoma; hypertension; bipolar disorder; and intermittent explosive disorder. (R. 18-19.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work and had lasted for at least twelve months as required under the statute. (R. 19.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of mild hearing loss was not a severe impairment because it did not cause more than minimal functional limitations. (Id.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of the [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things he can still do, despite his limitations-to determine whether he can perform “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that he had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) as follows:

[T]he claimant has the capacity to lift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand/walk 6 hours of an eight-hour shift; and sit 6 hours of an eight-hour shift. The claimant can sit or stand at least 20 minutes each. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, gases, poorly ventilated areas, and chemicals. The claimant is limited to simple routine tasks with a relatively ...

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