United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
MICHAEL S. DUNN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security, Administration, Defendant.
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge
Michael S. Dunn applied in March 2013 for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income
disability benefits (SSI) under Titles II and XVI,
respectively, of the Social Security Act. Acting for the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration following
a hearing on June 9, 2015, administrative law judge Matthew
C. Kawalek found that Mr. Dunn is not disabled. The Appeals
Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, rendering
the ALJ's decision for the Commissioner final. Mr. Dunn
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.
Dunn asserts one error in the Commissioner's decision. He
contends that the ALJ failed to evaluate properly the opinion
of the state agency examining physician regarding his
residual functional capacity.
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court's standard of review, and
then address Mr. Dunn's specific assertion of error.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show that 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. § 423(d)(1)(A)
(DIB benefits); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (SSI
benefits). Mr. Dunn 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. § 423(d)(2)(A). 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.
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 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 that 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 all 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).
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
age, work experience, and education (which are not considered
at step four), and his RFC; if so, then he is not disabled.
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).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
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).
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for his decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d
697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address
every piece of evidence in his decision, but he cannot ignore
a line of evidence that undermines the conclusions he made,
and he must trace the path of his reasoning and connect the
evidence to his findings and conclusions. Arnett v.
Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7thCir. 2012);
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th
The ALJ's ...