United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
applied for social security disability benefits, claiming
that he was no longer able to work. He alleged that he became
disabled around the time he fell and hurt his leg and hip,
and that he experienced pain and swelling in his left leg. He
also took medication for hypertension, and testified to
experiencing swelling in his hands and face and blurred
vision. An administrative law judge found that Mr. C. did not
have any severe impairments that lasted for at least one
year, so he denied Mr. C.'s claim. For the following
reasons, the Court reverses that decision and remands for
applied for social security disability benefits in January
2015. He alleged that he became disabled in December 2014,
when he experienced a fall that caused swelling to his left
leg, and that he had a rod in his left leg from an injury
about ten years earlier. Mr. C. sought medical treatment on
very few occasions, though. He visited the emergency room in
December 2014 for a fall he experienced about a week earlier.
He reported that he had been experiencing severe pain in his
left knee and had tenderness in his tailbone. The doctor
noted swelling and bruising in the leg. X-rays reflected no
acute injury, but showed a healed fracture and hardware from
an injury Mr. C. experienced about ten years earlier. The
doctor noted that Mr. C might have had a soft tissue injury
and gave him crutches, and also referred him to counseling
for alcohol abuse. Mr. C. next sought medical treatment about
two years later, complaining of swelling in his face and
hands, which the doctors related to his hypertension and
effects from his medication. He saw doctors in December 2016
and January and February 2017 about those symptoms.
applying for disability benefits, Mr. C. attended an
examination with an agency physician, who opined that Mr. C.
was limited to essentially sedentary work. Two agency
reviewing physicians offered similar opinions about Mr.
C.'s limitations but concluded that he was still able to
perform other work. After a hearing before an administrative
law judge, the ALJ denied Mr. C.'s claim. The ALJ
concluded that while Mr. C. had severe impairments, those
impairments did not endure for at least twelve months, so Mr.
C. did not qualify as disabled. The appeals council denied
review, so Mr. C. filed this action seeking review of that
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of 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). 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 Cir. 2008).
has the duty to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In evaluating the ALJ's decision, 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 his or her findings. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ must
provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence
and the conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471,
475 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD FOR DISABILITY
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 process to determine
whether the claimant qualifies as disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one
listed in ...