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Betcke v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 27, 2018



          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Mitchell Betcke appeals to the district court from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying his application under the Social Security Act (the “Act”) for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).[1] For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be REVERSED, and the case will be REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings in accordance with this Opinion and Order.


         On January 24, 2013, Betcke filed an application for DIB, alleging disability as of April 25, 2012. (DE 12 Administrative Record (“AR”) 151-52). Betcke's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (AR 94-110). Betcke timely filed a request for a hearing (AR 11-12), and on September 2, 2014, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Steven Neary (the “ALJ”) (AR 29-63). At the hearing, Betcke; Betcke's mother, Carolyn Betcke (“Carolyn”); Alan Neuenschwander, a vocational counselor at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (“Neuenschwander”); and Vocational Expert Sharon Ringenberg (the “VE”) testified.[2] (AR 29). Betcke was represented by attorney Randal Forbes at the hearing. (AR 29). On October 22, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Betcke could perform jobs existing in substantial numbers in the national economy, and therefore, was not disabled under the Act. (AR 10-28). Betcke requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, and the Appeals Council denied his request, making the ALJ's decision the final, appealable decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-9).

         Betcke filed a complaint with this Court on April 5, 2016, seeking relief from the Commissioner's final decision. (DE 1). Betcke alleges that he is disabled as the result of an injury at the workplace, which caused the following: a fractured right temporal bone, bilateral frontal lobe hemorrhagic contusions, a right temporal epidural hematoma, bilateral subdural hematomas, pneumocephalus, and a temporal lobe contusion. (DE 16 at 2 (referencing AR 258-331)). In his appeal, Betcke alleges that the ALJ erred by: (1) not addressing the VE's testimony regarding Betcke's limitations in crafting the RFC; and (2) failing to adequately address witness testimony in the credibility determination. (DE 16 at 5).


         Under the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB if he establishes an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to . . . last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1), 423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3).

         In determining whether Betcke is disabled as defined by the Act, the ALJ conducted the familiar five-step analytical process, which required him to consider the following issues in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is currently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the Commissioner, see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1; (4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his past work; and (5) whether the claimant is incapable of performing work in the national economy.[3] See Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. An affirmative answer leads either to the next step or, on steps three and five, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative answer at any point other than step three stops the inquiry and leads to a finding that the claimant is not disabled. Id. The burden of proof lies with the claimant at every step except the fifth, where it shifts to the Commissioner. Id. at 885-86.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Betcke had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of April 25, 2012. (AR 15). At step two, the ALJ found that Betcke had the following severe impairments: a seizure disorder; depression; anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified; and residual effects from a traumatic brain injury. (AR 15-16).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Betcke did not have an impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to meet or equal a listing. (AR 16-18). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Betcke's symptom testimony was “not entirely credible” (AR 19), and assigned him the following RFC:

[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: cannot work at occupations which require working at unprotected heights or operating hazardous moving machinery; cannot engage in complex or detailed tasks, but remains capable of performing simple routines tasks, throughout the workday, which do not require working at a rapid pace, do not require working with the public, and do not require working in close proximity or cooperation with others.

(AR 18). Based on this RFC, the ALJ found at step four that Betcke could not perform his past relevant work. (AR 20). The ALJ considered the testimony of the VE, in part, and other evidence in the record and determined at step five that Betcke could perform other jobs in the national economy that exist in significant numbers, and therefore, his application for DIB was denied. (AR 20-21).


         Section 405(g) of the Act grants this Court “the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court's task is limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, which means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The decision ...

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