United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Mark Duane Bishop applied for social security disability
benefits, arguing that he was disabled due to his back pain,
shoulder pain, obesity, and mental health, among other
issues. The Commissioner found that Mr. Bishop was still
capable of working a number of jobs despite his limitations,
so it denied his application. Mr. Bishop now appeals that
decision. For the reasons below, the Court reverses the
Commissioner's decision and remands for further
Bishop worked for many years in jobs that were very
physically demanding. He claims that he eventually had to
quit at the age of 56, primarily due to extreme pain that he
suffered in his back and shoulder. He thus applied for
Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security
Income benefits, claiming he was no longer able to work. He
cited the pain from his back and shoulder due to degenerative
disc and joint disease, which may have also been exacerbated
by his obesity. He also had respiratory problems due to a
history of smoking, and further claimed to have mental
limitations due to depression and anxiety.
Bishop's treating physician, Dr. Seluzhitskiy, completed
a form in May 2013 outlining her opinion as to Mr.
Bishop's physical limitations, indicating that Mr. Bishop
was quite limited in his ability to lift, carry, stand, or
walk, among other limitations. The agency reviewing
physicians opined in July and August 2013 that Mr. Bishop was
not nearly as limited, though. They opined that Mr. Bishop
could lift up to 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds
frequently, and that he could sit, stand, and walk up to 6
hours in a workday. After holding a hearing in April 2015, at
which Mr. Bishop and a vocational expert testified, the
Administrative Law Judge largely adopted the agency reviewing
physicians' opinions in those respects, and gave little
weight to the opinion of Mr. Bishop's treating physician.
Based on the vocational expert's testimony that a person
with those limitations could still perform other jobs, the
ALJ found that Mr. Bishop did not qualify as disabled.
Accordingly, the ALJ denied Mr. Bishop's claims. The
Appeals Council denied review, making the Commissioner's
decision final, so Mr. Bishop filed this action seeking
review of that decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court 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 consists of “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more
than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir.
2007). Thus, 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. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. Ultimately, while
the ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or
testimony presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
benefits are available only to those individuals who can
establish disability under the terms of the Social Security
Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir.
1998). Specifically, the claimant must be 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social
Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation
process to be used in determining whether the claimant has
established a disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
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