United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge
Morris Patrick seeks judicial review of the Social Security
Acting Commissioner's decision denying him disability
benefits, and asks this Court to remand the case. This Court
may enter a ruling on this matter based upon the parties'
consent. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
[DE 17]. For the reasons below, the Court reverses and
remands the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
Overview of the Case
claims an onset of disability effective May 30, 2014, which
was caused by chronic back pain, post-surgical problem with
his right lower leg and foot, and obesity [DE 9 at 30-31]. At
the time of his alleged onset of disability, Patrick was a 50
year man with a history of factory employment. Patrick had
most recently worked for Dalton Foundries as a scrap auditor
and utility worker [DE 9 at 55]. He reported completing the
8th Grade but did not attend secondary school and
does not have a GED [Id. at 73- 74]. Since June
2014, the Patrick has not engaged in any substantial
employment, and has only received sick pay and disability
benefits from Dalton Foundries instead of wages [Id.
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) of July 7, 2014, and his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) of January
15, 2016, were denied initially and again upon
reconsideration. Following a hearing on October 31, 2016, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a
decision affirming the Agency's denial of benefits. The
ALJ found that Patrick was unable to perform any past
relevant work [Id. at 36]. However, the ALJ found
that Patrick has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined by the
regulations [Id. at 33], and that Patrick has
the ability to meet the requirements for employment as a
housekeeper/cleaner, cashier II, and packager as those jobs
are defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
[Id. at 37]. Based on these findings, the ALJ denied
facts will be included as necessary.
Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims
for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:
(1) whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether
the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner
considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does
not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can
perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant
is capable of performing any work in the national economy.
Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012)
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)).
claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step
five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir.
Standard of Review
Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, the Court must give
deference to the ALJ's decision so long as it is
supported by substantial evidence and the ALJ has built an
“accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to
conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th
Cir. 2014) (citing Simila v. Astrue, 573
F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009)). This deference is lessened
where the ALJ's findings contain an error of fact or
logic, or fail to apply the correct legal standard.
Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 709 (7th Cir.
2013). An ALJ decision cannot be affirmed if it lacks
evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues.
Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir.
2003). At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate her analysis of
the record to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of
her reasoning and to be assured the ALJ has considered the
important evidence in the record. Scott v. Barnhart,
298 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2005). While the ALJ need not
specifically address every piece of evidence in the record to
present the requisite “logical bridge” from the
evidence to her conclusions, O'Connor-Spinner v.
Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010), the ALJ must
a least provide a glimpse into the reasoning behind her
analysis and the decision to deny benefits. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001).
reviews the entire administrative record, but does not
reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in
evidence, decide questions of credibility or substitute its
judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart,
395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). Thus, the question upon
judicial review 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). Substantial evidence must be “more
than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir.
2007). Thus, substantial evidence is simply “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Kepple v.
Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001).
the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision based on the
five-step disability evaluation prescribed by the Social
Security Administration's regulations. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found Patrick had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since May 30, 2014, the
alleged onset date [DE 9 at 30]. At step two, the ALJ noted
that Patrick had the following severe impairments: (1) post
lumbar fusion surgeries in December 1998 and July 2014, which
show residual degenerative and discogenic changes; (2) post
laminectomy syndrome; (3) post right foot surgery, including
great toe fusion and right gastrocenemius recession; and (4)
obesity [Id. at 30- 31]. Patrick also had non-severe
impairments: (1) hypertension; (2) hyperlipidemia, (3)
hypothyroidism; (4) chest pains; (5) asthma/bronchitis; (6)
allergies; (7) benign positional vertigo; (8) low
testosterone; (9) left ankle problems; (10) left elbow
problems; (11) a left hand injury; (12) depression; and (13)
anxiety [Id. at 31]. At step three, the ALJ found
that Patrick did not meet the criteria of a Section 1.04
listing regarding disorders of the spine [Id. at
32]. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Section 1.04.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ analyzed Patrick's RFC
and concluded that Patrick retained the ability to perform
some light work with restrictions. The ALJ stated the
following about Patrick's RFC:
Perform light work…except that he can never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffold, he can only occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
he can occasionally reach overhead with the bilateral upper
extremities. He must also avoid all exposure to vibratory
tools and wet or uneven surfaces.
[Id. at 33]. At step four, the ALJ found that these
limitations prevented Patrick from performing any of his past
relevant work [Id. at 36]. At step five, however,
the ALJ found that, based on Patrick's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, Patrick was able to perform a
significant number of jobs in the national economy, including
housekeeper/ cleaner, cashier II, and packager [Id.
at 37]. Based on these findings, the ALJ ...