United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
ALAN J. BEST, Plaintiff,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
Plaintiff, Alan J. Best, seeks review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
The Plaintiff claims that he is unable to maintain
substantial gainful employment due to limitations brought
about by a variety of medical conditions, including diabetes,
degenerative disc disease, anxiety, and depression.
27, 2013, the Plaintiff filed an application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
alleging disability beginning on May 20, 2013. After his
claim was denied initially, as well as upon reconsideration,
the Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ). On January 8, 2015, the Plaintiff, who was
represented by an attorney, participated in a video hearing
before the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On May
21, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision, applying the
well-known five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).
first step, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since May 20, 2013, the
alleged onset date. At the second step, the ALJ determined
that the Plaintiff had severe impairments that significantly
limited his physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521(a). These severe
impairments were insulin dependent diabetes mellitus,
degenerative disc disease, chronic right C7 radiculopathy,
right carpal tunnel syndrome and ulnar neuropathy, obesity,
hypertension, anxiety, and depression. The ALJ determined
that these impairments impacted the Plaintiff's ability
to lift and carry heavy items, to perform fine finger
manipulations, and to perform the mental demands of work in
the context of concentrating for extended periods. The ALJ
also found that these impairments impacted postural changes.
The ALJ discussed several impairments that did not appear to
have a lasting effect on the Plaintiff's ability to
function, or did not produce symptoms that would interfere
more than minimally with his ability to perform work-related
activity and, thus, were not severe.
three, the ALJ considered whether the Plaintiff's
impairments, or combination of impairments, met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the impairments listed by the
Administration as being so severe that it presumptively
precludes SGA. See 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
1. The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff's impairments did
not meet any listings, and noted that there were no
acceptable medical sources who opined otherwise.
the ALJ was required, at step four, to determine the
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is
an assessment of the claimant's ability to perform
sustained work-related physical and mental activities in
light of his impairments. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1
(July 2, 1996). The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform less than the full range of light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b). Specifically, he
could lift, carry, push and pull ten pounds frequently and
twenty pounds occasionally; could sit for six hours in an
eight-hour work day; could stand/walk for six hours in an
eight-hour work day; could use his right upper extremity for
frequent, but not constant, fine finger manipulation; would
be precluded from climbing ladders/ropes/scaffolds; could
occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; and could sustain attention to tasks
throughout an eight-hour work day, but for less than two
hours consecutively on any single task.
final step of the evaluation, the ALJ determined that the
Plaintiff was not disabled because he was capable of
performing the requirements of representative unskilled light
occupations such as retail marker, housekeeper/cleaner,
dining room attendant, mail sorter, routing clerk, and hand
Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. In January 2016, the Appeals Council denied
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981;
Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir.
2009). The Plaintiff seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C.
claimant is disabled only if he shows an 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). He
has the burden of proving disability. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(5)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a). He must establish
that his physical or mental impairments “are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C.
will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and
denial of disability benefits if they are supported by
substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It must be
“more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Even if “reasonable minds
could differ” about the disability status of the
claimant, the court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision, and the decision cannot stand if it lacks
evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the
is not required to address every piece of evidence or
testimony presented, but the ALJ must provide a
“logical bridge” between the evidence and the
conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th
Cir. 2009). If the Commissioner commits an error of law,
remand is warranted without regard to the volume of ...