United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
JEFFREY P. HIGDON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Higdon appeals the denial of his application for social
security disability benefits. An administrative law judge
found that Mr. Higdon suffered from severe impairments that
prevented him from performing his past work, but that Mr.
Higdon still had the ability to perform other jobs. On
appeal, Mr. Higdon argues that the judge erred in evaluating
the extent of his restrictions. For the following reasons,
the Court remands this action to the Commissioner for further
Higdon worked for years in jobs that ranged from medium to
very heavy exertional levels. However, he claims that he
became unable to work prior to his fiftieth birthday due to
several health conditions. He had undergone multiple shoulder
surgeries and also experienced chronic back pain. He reported
experiencing pain and numbness in his arms. The conditions
limited his range of motion and the amount of weight he could
lift, and he also reported being unable to sit for extended
periods of time. Mr. Higdon also suffered from chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary artery disease,
and was further diagnosed with sleep hypoxia and fatigue,
among other conditions.
found that Mr. Higdon had multiple severe impairments, and
that he had the residual functional capacity to perform a
reduced range of light work. Based on testimony from a
vocational expert, the ALJ found that Mr. Higdon was no
longer able to perform his past work. However, he also found
that Mr. Higdon still had the ability to perform other jobs
that existed in significant numbers, including work as a
sorter or package inspector. Accordingly, the ALJ found that
Mr. Higdon did not qualify as disabled. Mr. Higdon appealed
that decision to the Appeals Council, which denied review, so
Mr. Higdon filed this action.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability
benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008).
Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This 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, even if “reasonable minds could
differ” about the disability status of the claimant,
the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long
as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's
decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. While the ALJ is not
required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions.
Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD FOR DISABILITY
benefits are available only to those individuals who can
establish disability under the terms of the Social Security
Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir.
1998). Specifically, the claimant must be unable “to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social
Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation
process to be used in determining whether the claimant has
established a disability. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
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