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Collins v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 27, 2019




         Plaintiff Vernon L. Collins seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying his application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II, 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 15]. For the reasons below, the Court reverses and remands the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         I. Overview of the Case

          Collins alleges an onset of disability on March 28, 2014, based on lumbar radiculopathy, lumbar spondylosis, cervical spondylosis, cervical radiculopathy, thoracic spondylosis, removal of his right kidney due to stage one renal cancer, high blood pressure, right motor cuff torn, and left shoulder complex high-grade partial thickness tear. Collins completed high school and an apprenticeship program for die setting. Collins worked as a die setter from June 1994 through March of 2014.

         Collins' application for DIB on April 13, 2014, was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Following an October 17, 2016, video hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision on January 12, 2017, which affirmed the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) denial of benefits. The ALJ found that Collins is unable to perform any past relevant work. [DE 10 at 29]. Further, the ALJ found that Collins has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined by the regulations with some limitations [Id. at 24]. The ALJ found, based upon the testimony of the vocational expert, that Collins has the ability to meet the requirements for employment as a circuit board assembler, address clerk, and call out operator as those jobs are defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”). [Id. at 30]. Based upon these findings, the ALJ denied Collins' claims for benefits.

         II. Disability Standard

         In order to qualify for DIB, a claimant must be “disabled” under the Social Security Act (“Act”). A person is disabled under the Act if “he or she has an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner's five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Act includes determinations as to: (1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity (“SGA”); (2) whether the claimant's impairments are severe; (3) whether any of the claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal one of the Listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work based upon her RFC; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; 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 a disability decision by the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, this Court's role in reviewing Social Security cases is limited. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). 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 judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). 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 errors 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). An 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 his analysis of the record to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his 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 his conclusions, the ALJ must at least provide a glimpse into the reasoning behind his analysis and the decision to deny benefits. O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015).

         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

         A. ...

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