United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
STANLEY V. WILLIS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Willis was in a car accident, after which he began
experiencing a number of serious health conditions that
caused severe pain and cognitive disorders. He applied for
social security disability benefits, claiming that he was no
longer able to work, but the Commissioner denied his
application. Mr. Willis filed this action seeking review of
that decision. For the following reasons, the Court reverses
and remands this action for further proceedings.
September 2012, Mr. Willis was in the passenger seat of a
vehicle that was hit on the passenger side. He was not
hospitalized immediately after the accident, but shortly
thereafter he began experiencing pain in his neck, back,
arms, and legs. He began seeking treatment, and was
eventually diagnosed with degenerative disc disease with
radiculopathy, epicondylitis (tennis elbow) in his right arm,
and carpal tunnel syndrome in both arms, for which he
underwent surgery. His doctors also told him that he needed
surgeries on his back and his elbow, but Mr. Willis was
unable to afford that. (R. 568, 579, 592). According to Mr.
Willis, those conditions caused constant, severe pain and
also resulted in numbness, particularly in his right arm and
leg. In addition to his physical symptoms, Mr. Willis
experienced cognitive impairments, which his doctors
suggested may have been caused by a traumatic brain injury in
the accident. That caused Mr. Willis to experience difficulty
with his memory and with concentration. He also stated that
he experienced chronic headaches, which became worse when
reading or concentrating.
Willis applied for social security disability benefits,
claiming that he became disabled at the time of the accident.
The ALJ found that Mr. Willis had multiple severe
impairments, including degenerative disc disease with
radiculopathy, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and
acquired cognitive dysfunction. However, the ALJ found that
Mr. Willis would still be able to perform sedentary work,
subject to a number of physical and mental limitations. Based
on testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that
a person with that residual functional capacity would still
be able to perform the job of “call out operator,
” which the ALJ found existed in significant numbers.
Therefore, the ALJ found that Mr. Willis was not disabled and
denied his claim. The Appeals Council denied review, so Mr.
Willis filed this action, asking that the Commissioner's
decision be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
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 ...