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Childers v. Berryhill

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

June 18, 2018

BRIAN J. CHILDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, Brian J. Childers, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied him disability benefits and erred by (1) failing to incorporate limitations from all of his medically determinable impairments, both severe and non-severe, into his Residual Functional Capacity, including limitations related to concentration, persistence, and pace, and (2) failing to consider the Plaintiff's work history in determining his credibility.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 4, 2014, the Plaintiff filed his Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on November 24, 2013. (R. 24.) His claims were denied initially on April 30, 2014, and upon reconsideration on September 2, 2014. (Id.) On December 28, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Sharon D. Ringenberg, a vocational expert, also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On February 2, 2016, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding he was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. (R. 24-35.) On May 11, 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. 1-4.)

         On July 10, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim [ECF No. 1] 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). 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 found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in SGA since his alleged onset date. (R. 26.)

         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). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including mild multilevel cervical spondylosis C2-C7, cervical and lumbar facet arthropathy and radiculopathy, chronic pain syndrome and occipital neuralgia, diabetes mellitus, obesity, alcohol dependence with physiological dependence, major depressive disorder without psychotic features, and social phobia. (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 and had lasted for at least twelve months as required under the statute. (Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of hypertension and obstructive sleep apnea were not severe impairments because they did not cause more than minimal functional limitations. (Id.)

         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, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(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, despite his limitations-to determine whether he can perform “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).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff had only mild limitations in daily living activities and social functioning and only moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace. (R. 27-28.) The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), except:

[H]e can lift/carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; he can sit for 6 hours out of an 8-hour workday, alternating to standing for 5 minutes after every 30 minutes of sitting; he can stand for 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday, alternating to sitting for 5 minutes after every 30 minutes of standing; he can walk 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday, alternating to sitting for 5 minutes after every 30 minutes of walking; push/pull as much as he can lift/carry; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders and scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch; never crawl; never exposed to unprotected heights; frequently exposed to moving mechanical parts, operating a motor vehicle, weather, dust, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants, extreme cold, extreme heat, vibration; occasional exposure to wet, slick, and uneven surfaces; limited to performing simple, routine tasks; and his time off task can be accommodated by normal breaks.

(R. 29.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (R. 31.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, ...


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