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Kuykendoll v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

March 28, 2019

BRYAN K. KUYKENDOLL, Plaintiff
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Bryan K. Kuykendoll seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1382 et seq. The court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons that follow, court denies Mr. Kuykendoll's request to reverse the Administrative Law Judge's decision or remand this action for further proceedings, and affirms the ALJ's denial of benefits.

         I. Background

         Mr. Kuykendoll alleged that his disability began on March 1, 2011. Mr. Kuykendoll's 2014 applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income were denied in February 2017. Before this case, Mr. Kuykendoll had filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in 2003, 2010, 2012, and 2013. These applications were denied and Mr. Kuykendoll didn't appeal those decisions.

         At the 2017 hearing on these applications, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Kuykendoll had numerous severe and non-severe impairments. The severe impairments were degenerative disk disease; left shoulder/rotator cuff status post-arthroscopic surgery and rotator cuff repair; anxiety; and depression. The non-severe impairments were mild sleep apnea; Hepatitis C; benign prostatic hypertrophy (“BPH/enlarged prostate”); chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), asthma, and bronchitis; carpal tunnel-like syndrome; left hip pain; a mild heart murmur; and podiatry issues. The ALJ concluded that Mr. Kuykendoll's impairments weren't severe enough, either singularly or in combination, to meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. The ALJ considered listings 1.02A (major dysfunction of a joint), 1.04 (disorders of the spine), and 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders) in his decision.

         The ALJ determined that Mr. Kuykendoll was mildly restricted in his daily living. He could perform fine and gross shoulder movements and had a normal gait and station, but couldn't engage in sustained lifting, reaching, pushing, kneeling, or crouching. The ALJ also determined that Mr. Kuykendoll was mildly restricted in his social functioning and that his impairments created moderate difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace. Mr. Kuykendoll lived with his mother. He attended church occasionally and saw friends irregularly. He struggled with group interaction but appeared to fare well in one-on-one scenarios. He could cooperate with others, follow directions, and foster romantic relationships. He handled his own medical care and that of his mother, although he sometimes struggled to recall detailed medical history. Mental health providers at Oaklawn Psychiatric Center determined that his attention and concentration were within the normal limits.

         The ALJ found that Mr. Kuykendoll had the residual functional capacity to perform unskilled, light exertional work with a number of limitations. These included limitations on lifting, carrying, pushing, reaching, climbing, and kneeling. The ALJ further found that Mr. Kuykendoll was capable of work involving interaction with superiors and the general public and that he could also perform other work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.

         The ALJ concluded that Mr. Kuykendoll wasn't disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and so wasn't entitled to disability benefits.

         II. Standard of Review

         The issue before the court isn't whether Mr. Kuykendoll is disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that he wasn't disabled. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011); Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the court can't reweigh the evidence, make independent findings of fact, decide credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner, Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009); Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 434-435 (7th Cir. 2000), but instead must conduct “a critical review of the evidence, considering both the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that detracts from, the Commissioner's decision.” Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). While the ALJ isn't required “to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, he must provide a ‘logical bridge' between the evidence and the conclusions so that [the court] can assess the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and afford the claimant meaningful judicial review.” Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). ALJs must “sufficiently articulate their assessment of the evidence to assure [the court] that they considered the important evidence and to enable [the court] to trace the path of their reasoning.” Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Kuykendoll believes the ALJ made several errors requiring remand: 1) that the ALJ erred in not including all relevant limitations in his Residual Functional Capacity determination; 2) that the ALJ erred in not giving a treating physician's opinion controlling weight; and 3) that the ALJ's erred in improperly overemphasizing Mr. Kuykendoll's ability to complete daily activities. Mr. Kuykendoll asks the court to either reverse the Commissioner's decision and award benefits or remand the case for further proceedings.

         A. The Inclusion of All Relevant Limitations

         Mr. Kuykendoll says the ALJ didn't properly include all his relevant limitations in the determination of his residual functional capacity. The ALJ must include all relevant evidence in the residual functional capacity determination. 20 C.F.R. § ...


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