United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
JEFFERY R. SINGLETON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL G. GOTSCH, SR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
25, 2017, Plaintiff Jeffery R. Singleton filed a complaint in
this Court seeking judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner's final decision to deny his application for
disability benefits. [DE 1]. Alternatively, Singleton seeks
remand for further consideration of his application by the
Appeals Council, which was denied on May 31, 2017. Singleton
filed his opening brief in this matter on December 26, 2017.
[DE 22]. On January 31, 2018, the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”), filed a response
asking the Court to affirm the decision denying benefits. [DE
23]. This matter became ripe on February 13, 2018, when
Singleton filed his reply brief. [DE 24]. This Court may
enter a ruling in this matter based on the parties'
consent, 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and 42 U.S.C. §
August 26, 2013, Jeffery R. Singleton (hereinafter,
“the Plaintiff”) filed a Title II application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The
Plaintiff also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental
security income on August 26, 2013. In both applications, the
Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on August 1, 2012.
These claims were initially denied on November 15, 2013, and
upon reconsideration on April 10, 2014. Thereafter, the
Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on April 16,
2014. On November 17, 2015, the Plaintiff appeared in
Valparaiso, Indiana, and an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) presided over the video hearing from
Livonia, Michigan. An impartial vocational expert also
appeared and testified at the hearing. The Plaintiff amended
his alleged disability onset date to March 1, 2013. The
Plaintiff's representative submitted a post-hearing brief
objecting to various aspects of the vocational expert's
hearing testimony. The ALJ reviewed the post-hearing
objections and found them unavailing. Based upon the August
26, 2013 application for disability, Disability Insurance
Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”), the ALJ found the Plaintiff not disabled
under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the
Social Security Act on February 11, 2016.
the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision reflecting the
following findings based on the five-step disability
evaluation prescribed by the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA's”) regulations.
At Step One, the ALJ found the Plaintiff meets the insured
status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2018 and
found that the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since March 1, 2013. At Step Two, the ALJ
found that the Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, bilateral
shoulder degenerative joint disease, and hepatitis C. At Step
Three, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
then determined that the Plaintiff retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The ALJ
found that Plaintiff can lift and/or carry up to twenty
pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, and sit for up
to six hours and stand and/or walk for up to six hours in an
eight-hour workday. Additionally, the ALJ determined that the
Plaintiff cannot climb ladders, but can occasionally climb
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Further,
the ALJ stated that the Plaintiff must avoid concentrated
exposure to unprotected heights, moving machinery, and
vibrating tools, and is restricted form work involving
overhead lifting. However, the ALJ noted the Plaintiff
requires the freedom to alternate position every thirty
Four, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff cannot perform past
relevant work and has a limited education. At Step Five,
considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that the
Plaintiff can perform. Based on these findings, the ALJ
determined that the Plaintiff had not been disabled from the
amended date of March 1, 2013.
Standard of Review
judicial review under the Act, the Court must accept the
Commissioner's factual findings as conclusive if
supported by substantive evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
When an ALJ's decision is the final action of the
Commissioner, the reviewing court examines the ALJ's
decision to determine whether substantial evidence supports
it and whether the ALJ applied the proper legal standard.
See Briscoe v. Branhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351
(7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence is more than a
mere scintilla but may be less than the weight of the
decision, the ALJ must build a logical bridge from the
evidence to his conclusion. Haynes v. Barnhart, 416
F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005). In addition, a
reviewing court is not to substitute its own opinion for that
of the ALJ, or to re-weigh the evidence. Id. An ALJ
must minimally express his analysis of evidence in order to
allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning
and to be certain that the ALJ considered the necessary
evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d
589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). The ALJ need not specially address
every piece of evidence in the record.
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618
(7th Cir. 2010).
Issue for Review
case, the Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in relying on
vocational expert testimony to fulfill his Step 5 burden
without properly addressing post-hearing objections to the
vocational expert's testimony [DE 22 at 4-11]. In his
opinion, the ALJ overruled seven post-hearing objections
raised by Plaintiff. [DE 13 at 17-21].
appeal here challenges the ALJ's decision overruling his
fourth objection, which argued that reliance on the
vocational expert's testimony identifying existing jobs
that would allow Plaintiff to “switch positions after
30 minutes or so” would violate SSR 00-1C addressing
disability claims under both the Social Security Act and the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) after the
Supreme Court's decision in Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt.
Sys. Corp.,526 U.S. 795, 803 (1999). [DE 13 at 73].
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that by accepting the
vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ failed to
determine whether this specific sit/stand option constituted
a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans
with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) such that his Step
5 analysis may have improperly identified jobs that included
the sit/stand option. In support, Plaintiff notes that the
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's
(“EEOC's”) conclusion that a “sit/stand
option” in a workplace constitutes a “reasonable
accommodation” under the ADA and cites SSR 00-1C and
Cleveland for the proposition that ...