United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Rivera suffers from a number of mental illnesses that cause
him to experience paranoia, severe mood swings, and an
explosive personality disorder. He applied for supplemental
security income benefits, but an administrative law judge
denied his claim, finding that he was able to work
notwithstanding his severe impairments. Mr. Rivera seeks
review of that decision. For the following reasons, the Court
reverses the decision and remands this matter to the
Commissioner for further proceedings.
Rivera suffers from mental illnesses including bipolar
disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, explosive
personality disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder. He experiences severe impulse control problems,
with paranoia, mood swings, and thought distortions. He also
has a history of substance and alcohol abuse that exacerbate
those conditions. His treating psychiatrist opined that Mr.
Rivera should not work because it would be unsafe for him to
be with other people in a work environment, noting that Mr.
Rivera “has severe mood swings, has severe thought
distortion and gets paranoid and he feels everyone is
attacking him and therefore he ‘hits back
first.'” (R. 344).
Rivera applied for supplemental security income benefits,
arguing that these conditions rendered him disabled. An ALJ
found that Mr. Rivera did have a number of severe
impairments, but that he did not meet or equal a listed
impairment and that he had the residual functional capacity
to perform jobs such as a kitchen helper or house cleaner.
The ALJ thus found that Mr. Rivera did not qualify as
disabled. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Rivera's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision
of the Commissioner. Mr. Rivera therefore filed this action
seeking review of that decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability
benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008).
Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This 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, even if “reasonable minds could
differ” about the disability status of the claimant,
the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long
as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. While the ALJ is not
required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
benefits are available only to those individuals who can
establish disability under the terms of the Social Security
Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir.
1998). Specifically, the claimant must be unable “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). The Social
Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation
process to be used in determining whether the claimant has
established a disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
listed in ...