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Keaton v. Berryhill

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

January 10, 2018

DARRIN E. KEATON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          ENTRY ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

          William T. Lawrence, Judge United States District Court Southern District of Indiana

         Plaintiff Darrin E. Keaton requests judicial review of the final decision of the Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), denying Keaton's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. The Court, having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, rules as follows.

         I. APPLICABLE STANDARD

         Disability is defined as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In order to be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but any other kind of gainful employment which exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner employs a five-step sequential analysis. At step one, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled, despite her medical condition and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).[2] At step two, if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment (i.e., one that significantly limits her ability to perform basic work activities), she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). At step three, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment that appears in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, App. 1, and whether the impairment meets the twelvemonth duration requirement; if so, the claimant is deemed disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). At step four, if the claimant is able to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At step five, if the claimant can perform any other work in the national economy, she is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

         In reviewing the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ's”) decision, the ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” id., and this Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). In order to be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, ” he must “provide an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and [his] conclusion that a claimant is not disabled.” Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). “If a decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, a remand is required.” Id. (citation omitted).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On July 15, 2013, Keaton protectively filed for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of January 1, 2013, due to chronic pulmonary disorder (“COPD”) and a hip replacement. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.

         On June 9, 2015, a video hearing was held before an ALJ. An impartial vocational expert also appeared and testified at the hearing. The ALJ issued her decision denying benefits on June 19, 2015. On September 12, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Keaton's request for review and he timely filed this appeal.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one, the ALJ determined that Keaton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability onset date. The ALJ found that Keaton met the disability insured status requirements of the Act (for purposes of DIB) through December 31, 2017. At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Keaton suffered from COPD, but that this impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. At step four, the ALJ determined that Keaton had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a light range of work. Specifically, the ALJ determined Keaton's RFC as follows:

The Claimant is able to lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit about six of eight hours; and stand/walk about six of eight hours. He can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant should not work around unprotected heights. He should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, vibration, and pulmonary irritants (e.g. fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation).

R. at 21 (citation omitted). The ALJ concluded that Keaton was unable to perform his past relevant work, but found at step five that a significant number of jobs existed in the national economy that Keaton could perform. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Keaton was not disabled as defined by the Act.

         IV. ...


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