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Burk v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

October 22, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff 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.

         I. Overview of the Case

         Burk 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].

         Burk's 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.

         Other facts will be included as necessary.

         II. Disability Standard

         The 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).

         III. Standard of Review

         This 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).

         Additionally, 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).

         A court 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).

         IV. Analysis

         Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision, based upon the five-step disability evaluation process prescribed by the SSA's regulations[1], 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. [Id ...

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