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Kuemmel v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

March 5, 2018




         Plaintiff Thomas Kuemmel Jr. seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) denying his application for disability and disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied him Social Security Disability benefits and erred by (1) failing to give appropriate weight to the Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion, (2) failing to adequately consider the combined effects of his impairments, and (3) failing to credit his work history to enhance his credibility.


         On August 26, 2013, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on May 1, 2012. (R. 20.) His claims were denied initially on November 19, 2013, and upon reconsideration on February 21, 2014. (Id.) On July 31, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Marie N. Kieffer, a vocational expert (VE), also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On September 1, 2015, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding he was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. (R. 20-31.) On January 20, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-4.)

         On March 21, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.


         Disability is defined as the “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). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent him from doing not only his previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering his age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has been unable to engage in SGA since his alleged disability onset date, May 1, 2012. (R. 22.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting his ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease, acute right shoulder pain, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and obesity. (R. 23.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work. (Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's other alleged or diagnosed impairments, including diabetes mellitus, carpal tunnel syndrome, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, were not severe impairments. (Id.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of the [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things he can still do physically, despite his limitations-to determine whether he can perform “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether he can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that he had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except:

The claimant can ambulate with use of one cane and is able to maintain balance while using unoccupied upper extremity to lift and carry items; can sit and stand occasionally (1/3 of the work day), changing positions throughout 8 hour workday, but still remain on task and at his duty station while either standing or sitting. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs; and can never climb ladders, rope, and scaffolds. He can understand, remember, and carry out rote or routine instructions or tasks that require the exercise of little independent judgment or decision-making and can be learned from a short demonstration up to 30 days. He can work jobs that entail only occasional and superficial contact and interaction with co-workers. He can only have occasional and superficial contact with the general public and would not be able to perform a job that entailed work-related interaction and conversations with the general public. He could interact and converse with supervisors long enough to receive work instructions, however, he can only work a job that otherwise involves occasional and superficial interaction with his supervisors. He should not work in an environment that is stringently production or quota-based, and thus may not perform fast paced assembly line work. He can meet production requirements that allow him to sustain a flexible and goal oriented pace. He cannot engage in repetitive twisting, bending, or lifting, for example he cannot do an assembly line type of job wherein he must twist, bend, and lift to obtain product from a conveyor belt and package the product.

(R. 25.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (R. 26.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements ...

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