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Conrad v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

May 11, 2018

STANLEY CONRAD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Stanley Conrad seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied his benefits and erred by: (1) assigning the Plaintiff a limitation to simple tasks but concluding that the Plaintiff can perform occupations that have a general education development (GED) reasoning level of three, (2) improperly discounting the Plaintiff's psychological consultative exam, and (3) improperly interpreting the Plaintiff's physician's statement that the Plaintiff is free to drive as indicative of the Plaintiff's health status.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 27, 2013, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on March 14, 2012. (R. at 17, ECF No. 12.) The Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.) An administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing on the Plaintiff's application on June 10, 2015. (Id.) The Plaintiff, as well as Robert Barkhuas, Ph.D., a vocational expert, appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On July 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a Decision holding that the Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because he was not disabled under the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act. (Id.) The Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id.)

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

         THE ALJ'S HOLDING

         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 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).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. 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 determined that the Plaintiff had engaged in SGA in 2013. (R. at 18.) However, after that date, the Plaintiff satisfied the step one inquiry because the ALJ found that there was a continuous 12 month period during which the Plaintiff did not engage in SGA. (R. at 19.) In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting the ability to do basic work activities pursuant to § 404.1520(c). Here, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including a history of seizures, a history of right parietal infarct with cognitive residuals, left shoulder AC joint degenerative changes, degenerative disc disease, hypertension, a history of Achilles tendonitis, obesity, and depression because they significantly limit his ability to perform basic work activities. (Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's sleep apnea, allergies, and migraines do not constitute severe impairments. 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). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rises to this level, he earns a presumption of disability “without considering his age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, falls short, an ALJ must move 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 this “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(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).

         In the case at hand, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments, either singly or in combination, do not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1, (R. at 20), and that the Plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work, as defined by § 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except that he is limited to:

the occasional use of hand controls; unlimited use of foot controls; reach on the right occasionally, but never on the left; unlimited reach [of] all others; handle occasionally, right and left; fingering frequently; unlimited feel; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; never balance, kneel, crouch, or crawl; occasionally stoop; never unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, or operating motor vehicles; unlimited weather, humidity, and wetness; unlimited odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants; never extreme cold or heat; unlimited vibration and very loud noise; limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; use of judgment is limited to simple, work-related decisions; and occasionally respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work-related situations.

(R. at 22.)

         At the final step of the evaluation, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled because there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the Plaintiff can perform. (R. at 33.) The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff can work as a surveillance system monitor and call out operator. (Id.)

         The Plaintiff subsequently sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir. 2009). The Plaintiff now seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         STANDARD ...


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