United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
RICKY A. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
A. Johnson is a 57-year-old man who left school in the eighth
grade and has worked as a construction laborer and a factory
machine operator. [AR at 183, 176, 197.] He stopped
working on November 27, 2012, just prior to a second surgery
on his cervical spine. [AR at 176, 182.] He had also
previously had a surgery on his lumbar spine in 2007. [AR at
54.] Citing pain in his back and neck, and difficulty lifting
and gripping, Johnson applied for Social Security disability
benefits. [AR at 190, 54.]
had a hearing before a Social Security administrative law
judge on July 9, 2015, at which Johnson appeared and gave
testimony. [AR at 36-72.] The ALJ issued a written decision
denying Johnson's claim for benefits on July 23, 2015.
[AR 20-35.] The ALJ found that Johnson has severe impairments
of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical
spines, status post lumbar fusion and cervical fusion,
arthritis of the left acromioclavicular joint, depression and
anxiety. [AR at 22.] The ALJ concluded that Johnson‘s
severe impairments do not conclusively establish disability
by meeting or medically equaling the severity of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
[Id. at 23.] The ALJ also found that Johnson
possessed the residual functional capacity to perform light
work with limitations, that he was capable of performing jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy,
and that Johnson is not disabled. [AR at 25, 34, 35.] The
Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied
Johnson's request for further review. [AR at 1.] This
case is Johnson's appeal from the denial of disability
asks me to reverse the ALJ's decision or remand the case
for further proceedings by the Social Security
Administration. My review of the ALJ's decision is
deferential. I must affirm it if it is supported by
substantial evidence, meaning “‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” McKinzey v.
Astrue, 641 F.3d 884, 889 (7th Cir. 2011)
(citation omitted). I cannot reweigh the evidence or
substitute my judgment for that of the ALJ. Minnick v.
Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015).
But these standards do not mean that I “will simply
rubber-stamp the Commissioner's decision without a
critical review of the evidence.” Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000).
“In rendering a decision, an ALJ is not required to
provide a complete and written evaluation of every piece of
testimony and evidence, but ‘must build a logical
bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.'”
Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th
Cir. 2015), quoting Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d
737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005).
first challenge to the ALJ's decision is that his
treatment of various medical opinion evidence was faulty.
Medical opinions are considered by the ALJ in formulating a
claimant's residual functional capacity. RFC is the
disability term for the description of what a claimant is
able to do despite functional limitations from medical
impairments, and represents the Commissioner's
determination of the individual's “capacity to
perform work-related physical and mental activities.”
POMS DI 24510.001(A)(1).
case, the ALJ found that Johnson had the RFC:
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except
than he can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can do no more than
occasional head turning or looking up or down. He can perform
frequent fingering and feeling bilaterally, but have no
exposure to hazards such as wet, uneven terrain or
unprotected heights. Due to moderate limitations in social
functioning, the claimant is limited to frequent interaction
with coworkers and the general public and only occasional
interaction with supervisors.
[AR at 25.]
Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time
with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to
10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little,
a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of
walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the
time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls.
silence on certain capabilities, the ALJ's RFC suggests
no limits on Johnson's ability to sit, walk or stand, and
an ability to frequently lift or carry 10 pounds, and to lift
up to 20 pounds. In rendering this RFC opinion, the ALJ gave
great weight to (that is, agreed with and adopted) the
conclusions of state agency medical consultant Dr. J. Sands,
who completed an RFC assessment on June 17, 2013. [AR at
31-32, 78-80.] The ALJ offers no explanation for favoring Dr.
Sands' opinion over that of other doctors with differing
opinions about Johnson's capabilities.
had the benefit of a number of medical opinions in arriving
at his RFC assessment. One of Johnson's treating
physicians is Dr. Julian Ungar-Sargon, a neurologist and
specialist in pain management. Dr. Ungar-Sargon provided a
Medical Source Statement in which he offered his opinions
about Johnson's work-related limitations. Dr.
Ungar-Sargon concluded that Johnson could only rarely lift or
carry up to 10 pounds, and could never lift or carry more,
based on severe carpal tunnel syndrome as shown on EMG. [AR
at 996.] Due to chronic lumbar spine issues shown on EMG, Dr.
Ungar-Sargon opined that Johnson could sit 2 hours at a time
and a total of 3 hours in an 8-hour work day, and that
Johnson could stand or walk for an hour at a time and a total
of 2 hours in an 8-hour work day. [AR at ...