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Barton v. Berryhill

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

March 20, 2018

STEVEN J. BARTON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.

          DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW

          Debra McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Steven J. Barton applied in August 2012 for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. His application alleged a disability onset date from his date of birth in 1989. Acting for the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration following a hearing held May 11, 2015, administrative law judge Kimberly Sorg-Graves issued a decision on June 23, 2015, finding that Mr. Barton is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision on September 22, 2016, rendering the ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Mr. Barton timely filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's decision. The parties consented to the magistrate judge conducting all proceedings and ordering the entry of judgment in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73.

         Mr. Barton contends the ALJ erred by (1) failing to address a medical opinion that he medically equaled Listing 12.10, which an ALJ had relied on years earlier in awarding benefits to Mr. Barton, (2) failing to address certain opinions by vocational counselors who had worked with Mr. Barton, and (3) failing to account in the RFC for his moderate difficulties with concentration, persistence, or pace.

         The court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing disability claims and the court's standard of review, and then address Mr. Barton's specific assertions of error.

         Standard for Proving Disability

         To prove disability, a claimant must show he is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Mr. Barton is disabled if his impairments are of such severity that he is not able to perform the work he previously engaged in and, if based on his age, education, and work experience, he cannot engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(3)(B). The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has implemented these statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         Step one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled. Step two asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in combination, are severe; if they are not, then he is not disabled. A severe impairment is one that “significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether the claimant's impairments, either singly or in combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes medical conditions defined by criteria the SSA has predetermined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical findings equal in severity to the criteria for the most similar listed impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).

         If the claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then his residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do work on a regular and continuing basis despite his impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the RFC to perform his past relevant work, then he is not disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and his RFC; if so, then he is not disabled.

         The individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform, given his age, education, work experience, and functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).

         Standard for Review of the ALJ's Decision

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7thCir. 2001). Substantial evidence means evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001).

         The ALJ is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate, justification for her decision to accept or reject specific evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every piece of evidence in her decision, but she cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the conclusions she made, and she must trace the path of her reasoning and connect the evidence to her findings and conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7thCir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Analysis

         I. Prior Award of ...


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