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Gary B. v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

October 10, 2018

GARY B., [1] Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, [2] Defendant.


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Gary B. applied for supplemental security income from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on September 8, 2014, alleging an onset date of June 1, 1992. [Filing No. 5-2 at 34.] His application was initially denied on December 3, 2014, [Filing No. 5-7 at 2], and upon reconsideration on March 20, 2015, [Filing No. 5-7 at 9]. Administrative Law Judge Julia Gibbs (the “ALJ”) held a hearing on May 24, 2016. [Filing No. 5-2 at 52-92.] The ALJ issued a decision on March 1, 2017, concluding that Gary B. was not entitled to receive supplemental security income. [Filing No. 5-2 at 31.] The Appeals Council denied review on January 22, 2018. [Filing No. 5-2 at 2.] On March 15, 2018, Gary B. timely filed this civil action asking the Court to review the denial of benefits according to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c). [Filing No. 1.]


         Standard of Review

          “The Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits … to individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory definition of ‘disability' has two parts. First, it requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second, it requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted or can be expected to last … not less than 12 months.” Id. at 217.

         When an applicant appeals an adverse benefits decision, this Court's role is limited to ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision. Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). For the purpose of judicial review, “[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. (quotation omitted). Because the ALJ “is in the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses, ” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008), this Court must accord the ALJ's credibility determination “considerable deference, ” overturning it only if it is “patently wrong.” Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

         The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Deputy Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform his past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.

Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (alterations in original). “If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, he will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then he must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.” Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

         After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) by evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ “may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling.” Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform his own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e), (g). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Deputy Commissioner. See Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

         If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits “is appropriate where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).



         Gary B. was 60 years of age at the time he applied for supplemental security income. [Filing No. 5-8 at 2.] He has completed at least a high school education and was found to have no past relevant work. [Filing No. 5-2 at 43.][3]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) and ultimately concluded that Gary B. was not disabled. [Filing No. 5-2 at 44.] Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One, Gary B. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[4] since September 8, 2014, the application date.[5] [Filing No. 5-2 at 36.]
• At Step Two, Gary B. had the following severe impairments: “unspecified anxiety disorder and unspecified depressive disorder.” [Filing No. 5-2 at 36 (citation omitted).]
• At Step Three, Gary B. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 5-2 at 37.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, Gary B. had the RFC “to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: cannot work around crowds; cannot perform fast-paced work such as assembly line work; cannot perform tasks which require confrontation with the public or more than superficial interaction with co-workers; cannot work in a hospital or nursing home setting; and can perform only unskilled work which does not require remembering complex instructions.” [Filing No. 5-2 at 39.]
• At Step Four, Gary B. did not have any past relevant work to evaluate. [Filing No. 5-2 at 43.]
• At Step Five of the analysis, relying on VE testimony considering Gary B.'s age, education, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could have performed through the date of the decision as a hand ...

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