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Coleman v. Berryhill

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

December 6, 2017

DONALD COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

          Debra McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) for a report and recommendation on its appropriate disposition. As addressed below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Judge REVERSE AND REMAND the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration that plaintiff Donald Coleman is not disabled.

         Introduction

         Mr. Coleman applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on November 14, 2013, alleging that he has been disabled since March 26, 2013. Acting for the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration following a hearing in October 2015, an administrative law judge (ALJ) issued a decision on December 9, 2015, finding that Mr. Coleman has not been disabled since the date his application was filed. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on January 26, 2017, rendering the ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Mr. Coleman timely filed this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for review of the Commissioner's decision.

         Mr. Coleman argues that the Commissioner's decision must be reversed and remanded because the ALJ erred in assessing his residual functional capacity, in evaluating his subjective allegations, and in addressing the vocational expert's testimony.

         The court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing disability claims and the standard of review and then address the assertions of error.

         Standard for Proving Disability

         To prove disability, a claimant must show that he is unable 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (DIB benefits); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI benefits).[1] Mr. Coleman is disabled if his impairments are of such severity that he is not able to perform the work he previously engaged in and, if based on his age, education, and work experience, he cannot engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §1382c(a)(3)(B). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has implemented these statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.

         Step one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled. Step two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, are severe; if they are not, then he is not disabled. A severe impairment is one that “significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has predetermined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in severity to the criteria for the most similar listed impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).

         If the claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then his residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do work on a regular and continuing basis despite his impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.945. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the RFC to perform his past relevant work, then he is not disabled. The fifth step asks if there is work in the relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his age, work experience, education, and RFC; if so, then he is not disabled.

         The individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, given his age, education, work experience, and RFC. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)(2).

         Standard for Review of the ALJ's Decision

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). Substantial evidence means evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).

         The ALJ is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate, justification for the decision to accept or reject specific evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every piece of evidence, but he cannot ignore an entire line of evidence that undermines his conclusions, and he must provide sufficient detail to allow a reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning. See Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012). The ALJ's decision must be ...


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