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Blackwell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 27, 2019

JAMES E. BLACKWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant. N o.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff James Earnest Blackwell seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying him disability benefits, and asks this Court to remand the case. For the reasons below, this Court remands the ALJ's decision.

         A. Overview of the Case

         Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled on January 1, 2012. (R. at 581.) Plaintiff worked as a photographer prior to aggravated diverticulitis symptoms in 2012. (R. at 605.) Plaintiff was found to be not disabled after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in 2014. (R. at 38.) Plaintiff appealed to the District Court. The District Court remanded the case, and the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to give further consideration to treating and nontreating medical source opinions, to reconsider Plaintiff's RFC, and to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert if warranted by the expanded record. (R. at 738-39.) After a new hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of gastrointestinal disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and osteoarthritis, as well as the non-severe impairment of adjustment disorder. (R. at 584.) The ALJ did, however, find that a number of jobs existed which Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 588.) Therefore, the ALJ found him to be not disabled prior to January 12, 2016, and denied him benefits for that period. (R. at 588-89.) Plaintiff turned fifty on January 12, 2016, and considering his age, education, work experience, and RFC, he was determined to be disabled as of that date. (R. at 588.) This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 688.)

         B. Standard of Review

         This Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will ensure that the ALJ built an “accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). This requires the ALJ to “confront the [plaintiff's] evidence” and “explain why it was rejected.” Thomas v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 953, 961 (7th Cir. 2016). The Court will uphold decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Evidence is substantial if “a reasonable mind might accept [it] as adequate to support [the ALJ's] conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).

         C. Disability Standard

         The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:

(1) Whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

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).

         D. Analysis

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ committed two reversible errors: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion of treating physician Dr. Cherenfant. (Pl.'s Br. At 7.); and (2) the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). (Pl.'s Br. At 13.) These complaints will be addressed in order.

         (1) Treating Physician

         First, Plaintiff takes issue with the ALJ's treatment of the medical opinion of Dr. Jovenel Cherenfant, M.D. (Pl.'s Br. At 7.) Dr. Cherenfant treated Plaintiff for over a year and a half before completing a Bowel Disorder medical Source Statement in January 2014. (R. at 559.) Dr. Cherenfant listed Plaintiff's diagnoses as diffuse colonic diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. (R. at 559.) Dr. Cherenfant stated that although Plaintiff's symptoms improved after his total colectomy, diarrhea remained an ...


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