United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge
Alan William Burk seeks judicial review of the Social
Security Acting Commissioner's decision denying his
application for Title XVI supplemental security income
(“SSI”) as allowed under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
This Court may enter a ruling in this matter based on
parties' consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); [DE 14]. For the
reasons below, the Court affirms the decision of the Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
Overview of the Case
alleges an onset of disability on May 6, 2014, which was
caused by nerve damage to his lower back, thyroid blockage of
his vocal box and airway, difficulty breathing, lower back
pain, and ankle stiffness. [DE 15 at 2]. On the date of the
alleged onset of his disability, Burk was a
fifty-two-year-old man, which is defined as an individual
closely approaching advanced age. 20 C.F.R. § 416.963.
He completed the “second year of high school, ”
did not earn his G.E.D., and had not worked anywhere since
2001. [DE 10 at 46].
application for SSI on May 6, 2014, was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. Following a video hearing on October
12, 2016, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
issued a decision affirming the Social Security
Administration's (“SSA”) denial of benefits.
The ALJ found that Burk has no past relevant work.
[Id. at 23]. However, the ALJ found that Burk has
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work as defined by the regulations with some
limitations [Id. 19]. The ALJ also found that Burk
has the ability to meet the requirements for employment as an
office helper, label coder, and cafeteria attendant as those
jobs are defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
[Id. at 24]. Based upon these findings, the ALJ
denied Burk's claims for benefits.
facts will be included as necessary.
Acting Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating
claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:
(1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful
employment; (2) consideration of the medical severity of the
claimants impairments; (3) whether the claimant's
impairment meets or equals one of the listings in Appendix 1
to Subpart P of Part 404; (4) assessment of the
claimant's RFC and whether he can perform his past
relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of
making an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920;
see also Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642,
646 (7th Cir. 2012). The claimant bears the burden of proof
at every step except Step Five. Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).
Standard of Review
Court has authority to review the Acting Commissioner's
decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, this
Court's role in the judicial review of Social Security
Administration cases is limited, and it is not permitted to
reweigh the facts or evidence. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). The Court must give deference
to the ALJ's decision so long as it is supported by
substantial evidence. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d
802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Similia v.
Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009)). The
deference for the ALJ's decision is lessened where the
ALJ's findings contain error of fact or logic, or fail to
apply the correct legal standard. Schomas v. Colvin,
732 F.3d 702, 709 (7th Cir. 2013).
an ALJ's decision cannot be affirmed if it lacks
evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th
Cir. 2003). Moreover, the ALJ's decision will lack
sufficient evidentiary support and require remand if it is
clear that the ALJ “cherry-picked” the record to
support a finding of non-disability. Denton v.
Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010); see
also Wilson v. Colvin, 48 F.Supp.3d 1140, 1147
(N.D. Ill. 2014). At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate her
analysis of the record to allow the reviewing court to trace
the path of her reasoning and to be assured the ALJ has
considered the important evidence in the record. Scott v.
Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). While the
ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence in
the record to present the requisite “logical
bridge” from the evidence to her conclusions,
O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618
(7th Cir. 2010), the ALJ must at least provide a glimpse into
the reasoning behind her analysis and the decision to deny
benefits. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th
Cir. 2001). The ALJ's decision must reflect that he built
a “logical bridge from the evidence to his
conclusion.” Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929,
935 (7th Cir. 2015).
reviews the entire administrative record, but does not
reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts of
evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its
judgement for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart,
395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). Thus, the question upon
judicial review is not whether the claimant is, in fact,
disabled, but whether the ALJ used “the correct legal
standards and the decision [was] supported by substantial
evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636
(7th Cir. 2007). Substantial 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, substantial evidence is simply “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Summers v.
Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017); Kepple
v. Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th. Cir. 2001).
the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision, based upon
the five-step disability evaluation process prescribed by the
SSA's regulations, finding that Burk was not disabled and
denying him disability benefits. At Step One of the ALJ's
analysis, he determined that Burk had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability
onset date, May 6, 2014. [DE 10 at 17]. At Step Two, the ALJ
noted that Burk had the following severe impairments: (1)
status post thyroidectomy; (2) laryngeal carcinoma; (3)
obesity; (4) degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine;
(5) obstructive sleep apnea; and (6) hypertension.