United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge
Brent Miller appeals to the district court from a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application under
the Social Security Act (the “Act”) for
disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). (DE 1). For the following reasons, the
Commissioner's decision will be REVERSED, and the case
will be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings
in accordance with this Opinion and Order.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
applied for DIB in February 2013, alleging disability as of
December 28, 2012. (DE 9 Administrative Record
(“AR”) 152-153). The Commissioner denied
Miller's application initially and upon reconsideration.
(AR 96-99, 101-07). After a timely request, a hearing was
held on May 22, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge William
D. Pierson (the “ALJ”), at which Miller, who was
represented by George Merkle, a non-attorney representative;
and a vocational expert, Marie Kieffer (the
“VE”), testified. (AR 36-74). On August 4, 2014,
the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Miller,
concluding that he was not disabled because he could perform
a significant number of unskilled, sedentary jobs in the
economy despite the limitations caused by his impairments.
(AR 22-30). Miller requested review of the decision by the
Appeals Council and submitted additional evidence with his
request, but the Appeals Council denied review (AR 1-6, 15),
at which point the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. §
filed a complaint with this Court on April 11, 2016, seeking
relief from the Commissioner's decision. (DE 1). Miller
advances five arguments in this appeal: (1) that the ALJ
erred at step three by failing to obtain an updated medical
opinion as to whether he met or equaled a listing; (2) that
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assigned
by the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence; (3) that
the ALJ improperly discounted the credibility of Miller's
symptom testimony; (4) that the VE's testimony was
unreliable; and (5) that the Appeals Council erred by failing
to remand the case to the ALJ due to new and material
evidence. (DE 15 at 13-24).
time of the ALJ's decision, Miller was 46 years old (AR
30, 152) and had a high school degree, had attended four or
more years of college, and had obtained an associate's
degree in applied sciences, a certification in welding and
sheet metal, and a journeyman's license (AR 184). Miller
had worked as a metal fabricator in the tool and die business
from October 1985 to December 2012. (AR 175, 184). In his DIB
application, Miller alleged disability due to osteoarthritis;
lumbosacral degenerative disc disease and fusion, bilateral
hip replacements, a Factor V Leiden clotting disorder,
hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. (AR 183).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of the Act grants this Court “the power to
enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court's
task is limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual
findings are supported by substantial evidence, which means
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir.
2005) (citation omitted). The decision will be reversed only
if it is not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ
applied an erroneous legal standard. Clifford v.
Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000) (citation
determine if substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews
the entire administrative record but does not reweigh the
evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility,
or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's.
Id. Rather, if the findings of the Commissioner are
supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive.
Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003)
(citation omitted). “In other words, so long as, in
light of all the evidence, reasonable minds could differ
concerning whether [the claimant] is disabled, we must affirm
the ALJ's decision denying benefits.” Books v.
Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 1996).
the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB if he establishes an
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to . . . last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1), 423(d)(1)(A). A physical or
mental impairment is “an impairment that results from
anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities
which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §
Commissioner evaluates disability claims pursuant to a
five-step evaluation process, requiring consideration of the
following issues, in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is
currently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets
or equals one of the impairments listed by the Commissioner,
see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1; (4)
whether the claimant is unable to perform his past work; and
(5) whether the claimant is incapable of performing work in
the national economy. See Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d
1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520. An affirmative answer leads either to the
next step or, on steps three and five, to a finding that the
claimant is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). A negative
answer at any point other than step three stops the inquiry
and leads to a finding that the claimant is not disabled.
Id. (citation omitted). The burden of proof
lies with the claimant at every step except the fifth, where
it shifts to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at
868 (citation omitted).