United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL
McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge
matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) for a report and
recommendation as to its appropriate disposition. As
addressed below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the
District Judge REVERSE and REMAND the decision of the Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) that plaintiff Michael M. is not
Michael M. applied in January 2007 for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits based on
disability under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the
Social Security Act, alleging he has been disabled since
September 1, 2002. A final agency decision that he was not
disabled was reversed and remanded after judicial review. The
Appeals Council thereafter issued an order dated April 6,
2012, vacating the prior decision and directing an ALJ to
hold a new hearing, take any further action to complete the
record, and issue a new decision. (R. 501). A new hearing was
then held in 2012 before a different ALJ (Robert Flynn) who
issued a partially favorable decision on January 16, 2013,
finding that Michael had become disabled as of November 21,
2009. The Appeals Council remanded this second decision for
further consideration with respect to the pre-November 2009
period only; it did not disturb the finding of disability as
of November 21, 2009. (R. 526).
new hearing was held in February 2016. ALJ Flynn then issued
a decision on April 16, 2016, reaffirming that Michael became
disabled on November 21, 2009, when his age category under
the grids changed to an “individual closely approaching
advanced age, ” but also finding that before the change
in age category, Michael was capable of performing the
requirements of other jobs available in significant numbers
in the relevant economy. On August 18, 2017, the Appeals Council
denied review of the ALJ's April 2016 decision, rendering
it the final decision of the Commissioner. Michael timely
filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
review of the Commissioner's decision.
argues that the Commissioner's decision that he was not
disabled before November 2009 must be reversed and remanded
because the ALJ did not properly evaluate the findings and
opinions of three doctors and because the ALJ's negative
credibility determination is patently wrong.
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court's standard of review and
then address Michael's specific assertions of error.
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show he is 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). Michael is disabled if his impairments are of
such severity that he is not able to perform the work he
previously engaged in and, if based on his age, education,
and work experience, he cannot engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers
in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). The
Social Security Administration has implemented these
statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled. Step two
asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe; if they are not, then he is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether
the claimant's impairments, either singly or in
combination, meet or equal the criteria of any of the
conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes
medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has
predetermined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all
of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical
findings equal in severity to the criteria for a listed
impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and
qualifies for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then his
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite his
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the
RFC to perform his past relevant work, then he is not
disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the
relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his
vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and
RFC; if so, then he is not disabled.
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If
the claimant meets that burden, then the Commissioner has the
burden at step five to show that work exists in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can
perform, given his vocational profile and functional
capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Young v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of
law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7thCir. 2001). Substantial evidence means
evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more
than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but it does not
demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v.
Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir.
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for his decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not
address every piece of evidence in his decision, but he
cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the
conclusions he made, and he must trace the path of his
reasoning and connect the evidence to his findings and
conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592
(7thCir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227
F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
The ALJ's ...