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Baughman v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 10, 2018




         Plaintiff Jackie E. Baughman seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the Commissioner) denying his application for disability and disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied him Social Security Disability benefits and erred by (1) failing to adequately account for his cervical radiculopathy and hand dysfunction, (2) failing to adequately weigh the Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion, and (3) failing to build a logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusions regarding the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.


         On April 22, 2014, the Plaintiff filed his Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning on December 14, 2012. (R. 18.) His claims were denied initially on August 27, 2014, and upon reconsideration on November 3, 2014. (Id.) On May 31, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with a non-attorney representative and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Constance Brown, a vocational expert (VE), also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On August 22, 2016, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding he was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. (R. 18-33.) On February 22, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-3.)

         On April 22, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.


         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), 1382c(a)(3)(A). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent him from doing not only his previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering his age, education, and work experience. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in SGA since his alleged onset date, December 14, 2012. (R. 20.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting his ability to do basic work activities under §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and lumbar spine, borderline intellectual functioning, and a somatic disorder. (Id.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work. (Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's other alleged or diagnosed impairments, including hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and kidney problems, were non-severe. (R. 20-21.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things he can still do physically, despite his limitations-to determine whether he can perform “past relevant work, ” (§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(A)(4)(iv)), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that he had the RFC to perform less than the full range of sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), which includes:

[L]ifting and carrying twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; standing and/or walking for four hours in an eight-hour workday; sitting six hours in an eight-hour workday; allowed the opportunity to alternate positions for one to two minutes every half hour; occasional climbing balancing, kneeling, stooping, crouching, and crawling; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold; avoid moderate use of moving machinery; avoid moderate exposure to unprotected heights; frequent reaching, handling, and fingering with the bilateral upper extremities; the ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions; work at flex pace, free of fast-paced production requirements; occasional and superficial interactions with coworkers and supervisors; may be off task no more than five percent of the workday; may be absent one day per month; and may need to use a cane for standing and walking.

(R. 23.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective symptoms and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (R. 24.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record . . . .” (Id.) The Plaintiff stated that after a neck surgery, he continually experienced pain, as well as numbness and tingling in his left arm, despite treatment. (R. 24.) He also reported pain in his back and hips and that his symptoms were aggravated by bending or any trunk movement. (Id.) He further stated that he had ...

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