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Yeakey v. Berryhill

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

November 20, 2017

CALVIN D. YEAKEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ENTRY REVIEWING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Calvin Yeakey applied for disability insurance benefits from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on January 4, 2013, alleging an onset date of December 31, 2002. [Filing No. 11-6 at 2.] His application was initially denied on February 5, 2013, [Filing No. 11-4 at 2], and upon reconsideration on March 12, 2013, [Filing No. 11-4 at 8]. Administrative Law Judge Blanca B. de la Torre (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on October 22, 2014, [Filing No. 11-2 at 65-96], and held a supplemental hearing on July 6, 2015, [Filing No. 11-2 at 38-62]. The ALJ issued a decision on July 22, 2015, concluding that Mr. Yeakey was not entitled to receive disability insurance benefits. [Filing No. 11-2 at 12.] The Appeals Council denied review on January 13, 2017. [Filing No. 11-2 at 2-7.] On February 21, 2017, Mr. Yeakey timely filed this civil action, asking the Court to review the denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). [Filing No. 1.]

         I.

         Standard of Review

         “The Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits . . . to individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory definition of ‘disability' has two parts. First, it requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second, it requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted or can be expected to last . . . not less than 12 months.” Id. at 217.

         When an applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, “[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.(quotation omitted). Because the ALJ “is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, ” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must afford the ALJ's credibility determination “considerable deference, ” overturning it only if it is “patently wrong, ” Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

         The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform [his] past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.

Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (alterations in original). “If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, [he] will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then [he] must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.” Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

         After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) by evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ “may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling.” Id.The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform his own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e), (g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

         If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits “is appropriate only where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).

         II.

         Background

         Mr. Yeakey was fifty years old when he filed for disability insurance benefits. [Filing No. 11-6 at 2.][1] Before undertaking the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), the ALJ found that Mr. Yeakery “last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2007.” [Filing No. 11-2 at 17.] Accordingly, for the period of time under consideration by the ALJ, Mr. Yeakey was under the age of fifty. See 20 C.F.R. 404.1563(c).

         Upon conducting the five-step sequential evaluation, the ALJ issued an opinion on July 22, 2015, determining that Mr. Yeakey was not entitled to receive disability insurance ...


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