United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL
McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge
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.
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.
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
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the standard of review and then address
the assertions of error.
for Proving Disability
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). 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.
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).
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
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).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
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).
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