United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
J. DINSMORE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
requests judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”).
See42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423. For the
reasons set forth below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that
the District Judge AFFIRM the decision of
filed an application for DIB on February 28, 2014 alleging an
onset of disability on February 22, 2013. [Dkt. 5-7 at
4]. Joe B. alleges disability due to severe medical
impairments of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, aortic
stenosis, stroke syndrome with a history of a seizure,
obstructive sleep apnea, and periodic limb movement
disorder. [Dkt. 5-2 at 35-36].
claim was initially denied on September 12, 2014 and again on
November 21, 2014 upon reconsideration. [Dkt. 5-4 at
2, 13]. Plaintiff filed a timely written request for
hearing on December 28, 2014. [Dkt. 5-5 at 22]. A
hearing was held on May 23, 2016, before Administrative Law
Judge Belinda J. Brown (“ALJ”). [Dkt. 5-3 at
23]. The ALJ issued a decision on June 28, 2016,
concluding that Joe B. was not entitled to receive DIB.
[Dkt. 5-4 at 25-39]. After Plaintiff's request
for a review of the hearing decision, the Appeals Council
remanded his claim. [Dkt. 5-4 at 44-46]. A second
hearing was held on September 5, 2017, where the Plaintiff
appeared and testified. [Dkt. 5-2 at 31-51].
Testimony was heard from both medical expert, Dr. Pella, and
vocational expert, Ms. Franklin. [Dkt. 5-2 at
34-50]. The ALJ rendered a decision on December 29, 2017
denying Plaintiff's claim. [Dkt. 5-2 at 11-25].
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision for
purposes of judicial review. [Dkt. 5-2 at 2-4]. On
August 24, 2018, Joe B. filed a timely Complaint
with this Court asking the Court to review the denial of
benefits according to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [See Dkt.
eligible for DIB, a claimant must have a disability pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 423. Disability is defined as the
“inability 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. §
determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner,
as represented by the ALJ, employs a five-step sequential
analysis: (1) if the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity, he is not disabled; (2) if the claimant
does not have a “severe” impairment, one that
significantly limits his ability to perform basic work
activities, he is not disabled; (3) if the claimant's
impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically
equals any impairment appearing in the Listing of
Impairments, 20 C.F.R. p. 404, subpart P, App. 1, the
claimant is disabled; (4) if the claimant is not found to be
disabled at step three and he is able to perform his past
relevant work, he is not disabled; and (5) if the claimant is
not found to be disabled at step three and cannot perform his
past relevant work but he can perform certain other available
work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (2012).
Before continuing to step four, the ALJ must assess the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), by
evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically
determinable impairments, even those that were not
severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563
(7th Cir. 2009).
ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive and must be upheld
by this Court “so long as substantial evidence supports
them and no error of law occurred.” Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2007). This
Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its
judgement for that of the ALJ but may only determine whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusion.
Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008)
(citing Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th
Cir. 2000)); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841
(7th Cir. 2007)). When an applicant appeals an adverse
benefits decision, this Court's role is limited to
ensuring that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and
that substantial evidence exists for the ALJ's decision.
Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir.
2004). For the purpose of judicial review,
“[s]ubstantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id.Because the ALJ “is in
the best position to determine the credibility of witnesses,
” Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir.
2008), this Court must accord the ALJ's credibility
determination “considerable deference, ”
overturning it only if it is “patently wrong.”
Prochsaka v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir.
2006). While the ALJ must base her decision on all of the
relevant evidence, Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329,
333 (7th Cir. 1994), and must “provide some glimpse
into [her] reasoning” to “build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion, ”
she need not “address every piece of evidence or
testimony.” Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176.
The ALJ's Decision
first determined that Joe B. did not engage in substantial
gainful activity during the period at issue, from February
22, 2013 through December 31, 2014. [Dkt. 5-2 at
14]. At step two, in determining whether Joe B. has a
medically determinable impairment that is severe or a
combination of impairments classified as severe, the ALJ
determined that Joe B. has “diabetes mellitus;
hypertension; aortic stenosis; stroke syndrome with history
of a seizure; obstructive sleep apnea; and periodic limb
movement disorder.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 14].
determined that “the clinical findings fail to
demonstrate a severe mental impairment.” [Dkt. 5-2
at 14]. In making this determination, the ALJ took into
consideration Claimant's treatment history, the clinical
findings, the opinions of the State agency psychological
consultants, and the four broad functional areas set out in
the disability regulations for evaluating mental disorders
(known as the “paragraph B” criteria.) [Dkt.
5-2 at 15]. The ALJ looked to Claimant's history of
polysubstance abuse, however, Claimant reported no ongoing
substance abuse after 2007, well before the alleged onset
date. [Dkt. 5-2 at 14]. Claimant also has a history
of depression and claims the depression medication caused
drowsiness. [Dkt. 5-2 at 14]. However, the treating
source records from the relevant time period show no
documentation of the alleged side effects. [Dkt. 5-2 at
14]. The ALJ took these considerations into account to
determine that “the claimant's treatment history
and prior reports fail to demonstrate a severe mental
impairment during the relevant time period.” [Dkt.
5-2 at 14].
then considered the clinical findings. These findings
indicate that, at most, the claimant displayed mood and
affective disturbance. [Dkt. 5-2 at 14]. Although
Claimant had difficulty with Serial 3's, he answered
mathematical questions and “demonstrated intact memory,
fund of knowledge, insight, and judgment.” [Dkt.
5-2 at 14]. Based on the clinical findings, the ALJ
determined that Claimant's mental impairments failed to
result in more than minimal symptoms or work-related
functional limitations. [Dkt. 5-2 at 14]. After
considering the clinical findings, the ALJ looked to the
State agency psychological consultant's opinions. The
psychological experts were able to actually examine Claimant
during the relevant time period and determined Claimant was
“likely able to perform most any job that might be
offered to him.” [Dkt. 5-2 at 14]. The ALJ
gave these opinions great weight because of the
consultant's psychological expertise and because their
opinions were well supported by evidence. Therefore, the ALJ
felt confident in her determination that Claimant's
mental impairments were non-severe because it was consistent
with the findings of the State agency psychological
consultants. [Dkt. 5-2 at 14-15].
considered the four broad functional areas set out in the
disability regulations for evaluating mental disorders, known
as “paragraph B” criteria, to come to this
conclusion of non-severe mental impairments. [Dkt. 5-2 at
15]. Claimant had mild limitation in understanding,
remembering, or applying information, as demonstrated by his
answering of mathematical questions, intact memory, fund of
knowledge, insight, and judgment. Claimant also had mild
limitation when interacting with others, as articulated by
both the Claimant and his wife. [Dkt. 5-2 at 15].
For the third broad functional area, the ALJ found Claimant
had mild limitation in concentrating, persisting, or
maintaining pace. [Dkt. 5-2 at 15]. Although
Claimant reports an attention span of only an hour, he is
able to finish tasks and has no problem following
instructions. [Dkt. 5-2 at 15]. “Overall,
clinical findings from the relevant time period fail to
document evidence of cognitive deficits, memory impairment,
or decreased concentration/attention.” [Dkt. 5-2 at
15]. Therefore, the ALJ determined Claimant had mild
limitation in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace.
The fourth broad functional area in “paragraph B”
is adapting or managing oneself. Based on the facts that
Claimant was able to care for his own personal needs while
also assisting in caring for pets, he prepared simple food
items, spent three hours a week mowing the yard, drove a car