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Patrick v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

July 27, 2018



          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Overview of the Case

         Patrick 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. at 30].

         Plaintiff's 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[1] [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 Patrick's claims.

         Other facts will be included as necessary.

         II. Disability Standard

         The 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)).

         The claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         III. Standard of Review

         This 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).

         A court 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).

         IV. Analysis

         Following 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.

         Before 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 ...

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