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Gore v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 19, 2018

RICHARD A. GORE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO, United States District Court Judge

         On January 3, 2017, Plaintiff Richard Gore filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the final decision of the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. [DE 1] The matter is fully briefed and ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, the Court will remand this matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Gore filed his initial applications for benefits alleging disability beginning March 15, 2010, due to a host of issues: mild degenerative disc disease and various other lower back ailments; osteoarthritis; left shoulder degenerative joint disease; gout; diabetes; sleep apnea; obesity; history of prostate cancer; asthma and shortness of breath; congestive heart failure; coronary artery disease; depression; and anxiety. His application was denied initially, on reconsideration, and following an administrative hearing in March 2015, at which he was represented by counsel. At that hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Gore and vocational expert (“VE”) Bruce Growick. The ALJ found that Gore had some severe physical and mental impairments but could still perform certain jobs available in the national and regional economy, and he was therefore not disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g). The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ decision, making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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).

         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 the ALJ's findings. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 888 (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. 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).

         DISCUSSION

         Disability insurance 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 following order:

1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one listed in the regulations;
4. Whether the claimant can still perform relevant past work; and
5. Whether the claimant can perform other work in the ...

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