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Taylor v. Berryhill

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

May 31, 2018

DENNIS K. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Dennis K. Taylor 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 give good reasons for discounting a state-agency consultative examiner, (2) failing to build a logical bridge between the Plaintiff's impairments and his residual functional capacity, and (3) discounting the Plaintiff's credibility for inappropriate reasons.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 10, 2013, 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 August 26, 2013. (R. 18.) His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.) On October 19, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Scott Silver, a vocational expert (VE), and the Plaintiff's wife appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On January 5, 2016, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding he was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. (R. 18-26.) On February 2, 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 3, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         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, August 26, 2013. (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 fibromyalgia, obesity, osteoarthritis in both knees, and degenerative changes in the cervical and lumbar spine. (Id.) The ALJ thus found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's other impairments, including hypertension, liver problems, and heartburn, were non-severe. (R. 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:

[S]it for a total of 6 hours and stand/walk a total of 2 hours in an eight-hour period and lift, carry, push, and pull 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. He is not able to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds at all and he can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He must also avoid concentrated exposure to hazards, such as unguarded machinery and unprotected heights.

(R. 21.)

         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. 22.) 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 credible.” (Id.) The Plaintiff testified that he needs a partial left knee replacement, weather changes worsen his pain, his left knee gives out on him multiple times per month, he becomes stiff quickly, he needs a stool when he cooks, and he is able to sit for only 10 minutes at a time, stand for only 5-10 minutes at time, walk for only 10- 15 minutes at a time, and lift only 5-6 pounds. (Id.) He also ...


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