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Laymon v. Berryhill

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

August 28, 2018

SCOTT A. LAYMON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Scott A. Laymon seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his application for disability and disability insurance benefits as well as supplemental security income. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied him Social Security benefits and erred by failing to include limitations in his residual functional capacity related to all of his impairments and failing to support the step five findings with substantial evidence.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 29, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability and disability insurance benefits, as well as a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning March 25, 2013. (R. 36.) His claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Id.) On July 20, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Sandra Steele, an impartial vocational expert (VE) also appeared. (Id.) On October 17, 2017, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's applications. (R. 44.) On September 5, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-4.)

         On November 3, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim 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), 1382c(a)(3)(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), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. 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 been unable to engage in SGA since his alleged onset date, March 25, 2013. (R. 38.)

         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), 416.920(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was severely impaired by diabetes mellitus with neuropathy in the bilateral upper and lower extremities. (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. (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff had multiple non-severe conditions, including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, bilateral retinopathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, groin pull/strain, oral thrush, dizziness, and ocular migraines. (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 [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(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), 416.920(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 physically, despite his limitations-to determine whether he can perform “past relevant work, ” §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(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). 416.920(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that he had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except:

[H]e is not able to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds at all and he can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He must also avoid all exposure to unprotected heights, slippery or uneven surfaces, and dangerous moving machinery in the workplace and he is able to handle, finger, and feel using his upper extremities on a frequent basis.

(R. 40-41.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of his alleged onset date. (R. 36-44.) The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (R. 41.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (R. 42.) The Plaintiff testified that his feet are numb, he has pain in his ankles and hands, he cannot open a pill box and generally has difficulty gripping objects, he need help checking his blood sugar levels three out of five times a day, he takes three naps a day, he must urinate every 30-60 minutes, he uses a cane without which he cannot stand or walk ...


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