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Needham v. Berryhill

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

April 16, 2018

JAMES G. NEEDHAM, Plaintiff,



         James G. Needham (“Needham”) requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). See42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), 1382c(a)(3)(A). For the reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the District Judge REVERSE and REMAND the decision of the Commissioner.

         I. Background

         Needham filed an application for DIB and SSI on April 15, 2014, alleging an onset of disability date of July 21, 2012. [Dkt. 13-6 at 2.] Needham alleges disability due to back pain, degenerative disc disease, chronic headaches, arthritis, depression, fibromyalgia, gout and compression fractures in the back.[1] [Dkt. 13-7 at 8.] Needham's application was initially denied on June 20, 2014, and denied again on September 10, 2014, upon reconsideration. [Dkt. 13-5 at 13-30.] Needham timely filed a written request for a hearing, which was held on February 17, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge Albert J. Velasquez (the “ALJ”). [Dkt. 13-2 at 31.] The ALJ issued a decision on March 11, 2016, again denying Needham's application for DBI and SSI. [Dkt. 13-2 at 28.] On March 9, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Needham's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 13-2 at 2.] Needham timely filed his Complaint with this Court on May 8, 2017, which Complaint is now before the Court. [Dkt. 1.]

         II. Legal Standard

         To be eligible for DIB or SSI, a claimant must have a disability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.[2] 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 determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner, as represented by the ALJ, employs a five-step sequential analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled; (2) if the claimant does not have a “severe” impairment, one that significantly limits his ability to perform basic work activities, he is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpart P, App. 1, the claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and he is able to perform his past relevant work, he is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is not found to be disabled at step three and cannot perform his past relevant work but he can perform certain other available work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Before proceeding from step three to step four, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), identifying the claimant's functional limitations and assessing the claimant's remaining capacity for work-related activities. S.S.R. 96-8p.

         The ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). “Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ but may only determine whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion. Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). The ALJ “need not evaluate in writing every piece of testimony and evidence submitted.” Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 287 (7th Cir. 1985); Zblewski v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 75, 79 (7th Cir. 1984)). However, the “ALJ's decision must be based upon consideration of all the relevant evidence.” Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). To be affirmed, the ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in his decision; while he “is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony, ” he must “provide some glimpse into his reasoning” and “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [his] conclusion.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that Needham has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 21, 2012, the alleged onset date. [Dkt. 13-2 at 33.] At step two, the ALJ determined that Needham “has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, remote history of compression fractures of back, fibromyalgia, and anxiety/depression.” [Id.] However, at step three, the ALJ found that Needham does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Dkt. 13-2 at 34.] In making this determination, the ALJ considered Listings 1.04 (Disorders of the spine), 12.04 (Depressive, bipolar, and related disorders), and 12.06 (Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders). [Dkt. 13-2 at 34-36.]

         The ALJ next analyzed Needham's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). He concluded that Needham had the RFC to perform a range of light work except:

[L]ift/carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and walk for a total of 6 hours per 8-hour workday; sit for 6 hours per workday; no climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; no more than occasional climbing stairs or ramps; no kneeling or crawling; no overhead work; avoid work at unprotected heights, around dangerous moving machinery, operating a motor vehicle around open flames, or around large bodies of water; work should be such that it can be learned in 30 days or less or by demonstration; and should not require more than superficial interaction with the public, coworkers, or supervisors.

[Dkt. 13-2 at 36.] In finding these limitations, the ALJ considered Needham's “symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence.” [Dkt. 13-2 at 36.] At step four, the ALJ concluded that Needham is unable to perform any past relevant work. [Dkt. 13-2 at 40.] The ALJ proceeded to step five, at which time he received testimony from the vocational expert indicating that someone with Needham's age, education, work experience, and RFC would be able to perform unskilled light occupations such as small product assembler, produce sorter, and baker helper. [Dkt. 13-2 at 41.] Because these jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Needham was not disabled. [Id. at 41-42.]

         IV. ...

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