United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
September 19, 2017, Plaintiff Corey Lawson filed a complaint
in this Court seeking review of the final decision of the
Defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying his
application for social security disability benefits [DE 1].
The matter is fully briefed and ripe for decision [DE 21-24].
For the reasons stated below, the Court remands this matter
to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
filed applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) on January 1, 2014,  alleging an onset
date of May 1, 2013, which was later amended to February 10,
2013-the day that he sustained a work-related back injury. To
be entitled to DIB, Lawson must establish disability on or
before September 30, 2018. Lawson contends that he is unable
to work primarily because he suffers from severe back pain,
diabetes, HIV, and depression.
Lawson began experiencing moodiness and sadness in 2012,
which resulted in his being prescribed Lexapro, he noticed
increased depression in August 2013 after being diagnosed
with degenerative disk disease. R. at 398, 410-13. On October
28, 2013, Lawson received a medical diagnosis of depression.
By March 2014, he was diagnosed as having major depressive
disorder (recurrent, moderate severity) and an unspecified
anxiety disorder. R. at 385, 435. Continuing into 2016,
Lawson complained of experiencing difficulties with his
depression and expressed that he was sleeping more often and
finding less enjoyment in life. R. at 892.
Lawson's back pain, an x-ray taken shortly after his
work-related incident demonstrated advanced moderate to
severe intervertebral disc space narrowing at ¶ 5-S1,
with anterior osteophytic spur formation and facet joint
sclerosis, particularly at ¶ 5-S1 and secondarily at
¶ 4-5. R. at 355. In August 2015, another x-ray
demonstrated mild to moderate L5-S1 degenerative disc
disease. R. at 1054. As of 2016, Lawson continued to complain
of chronic back pain despite taking pain medication,
undergoing spinal injections, and participating in physical
therapy. R. at 813-52, 1019-67.
applications were denied initially in April 2014, and on
reconsideration in August 2014. On April 12, 2016, Lawson and
a vocational expert (“VE”) testified during a
hearing held before Administrative Law Judge Daniel Mages
(“ALJ”). Lawson explained that his daily
activities varied based on the level of his back pain, and
that when it rains he is typically bedridden. Lawson
testified that he only cooks simple microwavable meals
because he cannot stand for any longer. For Lawson, shopping
requires too much walking, showering requires too much
standing, and vacuuming requires too much pushing. The last
time Lawson tried mowing the lawn, he only lasted for ten
minutes. He can no longer play sports. When his back hurts,
he needs to stretch or lay down for ten to thirty minutes.
Lawson's depression causes him to stay in bed, and he
doesn't think his prescription for Cymbalta is helping.
VE's testimony was based strictly on the (relevant)
hypothetical posed to him, which offered an assigned residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) of sedentary
work, limited by occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, crawling, and climbing of ramps and stairs, no
climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, no work around
dangerous moving machinery or unprotected heights, frequent
fingering, handling, and feeling bilaterally, and involving
only simple, routine tasks with the ability to attend,
concentrate, and persist for two hours at a time. Per the VE,
with this RFC Lawson would not be able to perform his past
work, but he could perform unskilled work as a call out
operator, order clerk, and telephone quotation clerk.
issued a decision on July 16, 2016, denying Lawson disability
benefits and concluding that Lawson was not disabled under
the Social Security Act because he was able to perform other
work in the national economy. The Appeals Council then denied
Lawson's request for review which made the ALJ's
decision the final determination of the Commissioner.
Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir.
2013). Lawson seeks review of the Commissioner's
decision, thereby invoking this Court's jurisdiction
under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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
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 the ALJ's findings. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 888 (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. Ultimately, 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).
and supplemental insurance 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 ...