United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
CHARLES D. COPELAND, JR., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
R. CHERRY, MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by
Plaintiff Charles D. Copeland, Jr. on March 29, 2017, and on
an Opening Brief [DE 16], filed by Plaintiff on September 11,
2017. Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse the June 11,
2015 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying him
disability insurance benefits and either award benefits or
remand for a new hearing. For the following reasons, the
Court grants Plaintiff's request for remand for a new
17, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability
insurance benefits, alleging disability. Plaintiff has
amended his alleged onset date of disability to June 10,
2013. The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration.
On May 29, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Laurie Wardell. Present at the
hearing were Plaintiff, his attorney, and an impartial
vocational expert. The ALJ issued a written decision on June
11, 2015, concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled based on
the following findings:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2016.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 10, 2013, the amended alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine;
status post lumbar fusion; history of left shoulder surgery;
calcaneal spurs to the feet; obesity; and anxiety.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he can never climb ladders, ropes
or scaffolds or more than occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, kneel, stoop, crouch or crawl. He can balance on even
and dry surfaces but not on wet or uneven surfaces. He can
have no exposure to vibration or hazards such as unprotected
heights or dangerous, moving mechanical parts. The claimant
is limited to simple, routine tasks.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
7. The claimant was born [in 1970] and was 43 years old,
which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the
amended alleged disability onset date. The claimant
subsequently changed age category to a younger individual age
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is
able to communicate in English.
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the
determination of disability because using the
Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or
not the claimant has transferable job skills.
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work
experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform.
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from June 10, 2013, the amended
alleged onset date of disability[, ] through the date of this
then sought review before the Agency's Appeals Council,
which denied his request on January 23, 2017, leaving the
ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. In denying
Plaintiff's request, the Appeals Council determined that
new evidence submitted to it was not relevant to the time
period at issue in the ALJ's decision. On March 29, 2017,
Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this case.
parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to
a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further
proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in
this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide
this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and 42 U.S.C.
Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final
decision of the agency and indicates that the
Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ
will reverse only if the findings are not supported by
substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous
legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d
345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence consists of
“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) (quoting Gudgel v. Barnhart, 345 F.3d 467, 470
(7th Cir. 2003)).
reviews the entire administrative record but does not
reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in
evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ.
See Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir.
2005); Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th
Cir. 2000); Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d 1049, 1055
(7th Cir. 1999). Thus, the question upon judicial review of
an ALJ's finding that a claimant is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act is not whether the
claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ
“uses the correct legal standards and the decision is
supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v.
Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618
(7th Cir. 2010); Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d
731, 734-35 (7th Cir. 2006); Barnett v. Barnhart,
381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004)). “[I]f the
Commissioner commits an error of law, ” the Court may
reverse the decision “without regard to the volume of
evidence in support of the factual findings.” White
v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing
Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir.
minimum, an ALJ must articulate her analysis of the evidence
in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of
her reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the
important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d
589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002); Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d
300, 307 (7th Cir. 1995); Green v. Shalala, 51 F.3d
96, 101 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ must “‘build an
accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [the]
conclusion' so that [a reviewing court] may assess the
validity of the agency's final decision and afford [a
claimant] meaningful review.” Giles v. Astrue,
483 F.3d 483, 487 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Scott,
297 F.3d at 595)); see also O'Connor-Spinner,
627 F.3d at 618 (“An ALJ need not specifically address
every piece of evidence, but must provide a ‘logical
bridge' between the evidence and [the]
conclusions.”); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he ALJ's analysis
must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [the]
decision to deny benefits.”).
eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must establish
that he suffers from a “disability” as defined by
the Social Security Act and regulations. The Act defines
“disability” as an inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To be found
disabled, the claimant's impairment must not only prevent
him from doing his previous work, but considering his age,
education, and work experience, it must also prevent him from
engaging in any other type of substantial gainful activity
that exists in significant numbers in the economy. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e)-(f).
claimant alleges a disability, Social Security regulations
provide a five-step inquiry to evaluate whether the claimant
is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The
steps are: (1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful
activity? If yes, the claimant is not disabled, and the claim
is denied; if no, the inquiry proceeds to step two; (2) Does
the claimant have an impairment or combination of impairments
that are severe? If no, the claimant is not disabled, and the
claim is denied; if yes, the inquiry proceeds to step three;
(3) Do(es) the impairment(s) meet or equal a listed
impairment in the appendix to the regulations? If yes, the
claimant is automatically considered disabled; if no, then
the inquiry proceeds to step four; (4) Can the claimant do
the claimant's past relevant work? If yes, the claimant
is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no, then the
inquiry proceeds to step five; (5) Can the claimant perform
other work given the claimant's residual functional
capacity (RFC), age, education, and experience? If yes, then
the claimant is not disabled, and the claim is denied; if no,
the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v); see also Scheck v. Barnhart,
357 F.3d 697, 699-700 (7th Cir. 2004).
steps four and five, the ALJ must consider an assessment of
the claimant's RFC. The RFC “is an administrative
assessment of what work-related activities an individual can
perform despite [his] limitations.” Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1178 (7th Cir. 2001). The RFC
should be based on evidence in the record. Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 676 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3)). The claimant bears the burden
of proving steps one through four, whereas the burden at step
five is on the ALJ. Zurawski, 245 F.3d at 885-86;
see also Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th
appeal, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to give proper
weight to Plaintiff's treating physicians, inadequately
considered Plaintiff's obesity, and erroneously
determined Plaintiff's subjective symptoms and further
argues that the Appeals Council erred in considering new
evidence submitted to it not related to the time period
covered by the ALJ's decision.
Treating Physician Opinions
what is known as the “treating physician rule, ”
the opinion of a treating physician on the nature and
severity of an impairment is given controlling weight if it
“is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory techniques and is not inconsistent with the other
substantial evidence in [the] case record.” Jelinek
v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c)(2). When an ALJ does not give controlling
weight to the opinion of a treating physician, she must weigh
the opinion in accordance with the factors in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)
(“When we do not give the treating source's opinion
controlling weight, we apply the factors listed in paragraphs
(c)(2)(I) and (c)(2)(ii) of this section, as well as the