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Bruce W. v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

June 20, 2019

BRUCE W., [1]Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Bruce W. applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and/or supplemental security income (“SSI”) from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on December 15, 2014, alleging an onset date of October 31, 2014. [Filing No. 9-2 at 13.] His applications were initially denied on April 30, 2015, [Filing No. 9-4 at 4; Filing No. 9-4 at 13], and upon reconsideration on July 9, 2015, [Filing No. 9-4 at 25; Filing No. 9-4 at 32]. Administrative Law Judge Shelette Veal (the “ALJ”) conducted a hearing on April 25, 2017. [Filing No. 9-2 at 53-72.] The ALJ issued a decision on August 15, 2017, concluding that Bruce W. was not entitled to receive DIB or SSI. [Filing No. 9-2 at 10.] The Appeals Council denied review on July 9, 2018. [Filing No. 9-2 at 2.] On September 6, 2018, Bruce W. timely filed this civil action asking the Court to review the denial of benefits according to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). [Filing No. 1.]


         Standard of Review

         “The Social Security Act authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits … to individuals with disabilities.” Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214 (2002). “The statutory definition of ‘disability' has two parts. First, it requires a certain kind of inability, namely, an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Second, it requires an impairment, namely, a physical or mental impairment, which provides reason for the inability. The statute adds that the impairment must be one that has lasted or can be expected to last … not less than 12 months.” Id. at 217.

         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 (7thCir. 2004) (citation omitted). 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. (quotation omitted). 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.” Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 738 (7th Cir. 2006) (quotations omitted).

         The ALJ must apply the five-step inquiry set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), evaluating the following, in sequence:

(1) whether the claimant is currently [un]employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the [Commissioner]; (4) whether the claimant can perform his past work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.

Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted) (alterations in original).[2]“If a claimant satisfies steps one, two, and three, [he] will automatically be found disabled. If a claimant satisfies steps one and two, but not three, then [he] must satisfy step four. Once step four is satisfied, the burden shifts to the SSA to establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in the national economy.” Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995).

         After Step Three, but before Step Four, the ALJ must determine a claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) by evaluating “all limitations that arise from medically determinable impairments, even those that are not severe.” Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). In doing so, the ALJ “may not dismiss a line of evidence contrary to the ruling.” Id. The ALJ uses the RFC at Step Four to determine whether the claimant can perform his own past relevant work and if not, at Step Five to determine whether the claimant can perform other work. See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(iv), (v). The burden of proof is on the claimant for Steps One through Four; only at Step Five does the burden shift to the Commissioner. See Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.

         If the ALJ committed no legal error and substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's decision, the Court must affirm the denial of benefits. Barnett, 381 F.3d at 668. When an ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, a remand for further proceedings is typically the appropriate remedy. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 355 (7th Cir. 2005). An award of benefits “is appropriate only where all factual issues have been resolved and the record can yield but one supportable conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted).



          Bruce W. was 42 years of age at the time he alleged his disability began. [Filing No. 9-6 at 2.] He has completed the tenth grade and previously worked as a housekeeper for a department store, janitor for a school, and watchman for a foundry. [Filing No. 9-7 at 7.][3]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the Social Security Administration in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and ultimately concluded that Bruce W. was not disabled. [Filing No. 9-2 at 24.] Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

• At Step One, Bruce W. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[4] since October 31, 2014, the alleged onset date. [Filing No. 9-2 at 16.]
• At Step Two, he had “the following severe impairments: peripheral neuropathy, anxiety, and personality disorder.” [Filing No. 9-2 at 16 (citations omitted).]
• At Step Three, he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Filing No. 9-2 at 16.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, Bruce W. had the RFC “to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except he can occasionally lift ten pounds. He can stand or walk for two hours and sit for six hours per eight-hour workday. He can occasionally push or pull with his lower right extremity. He can occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can frequently balance on level surfaces, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. He can occasionally tolerate exposure to unprotected moving mechanical parts and unprotected heights. He can tolerate occasional contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the public.” [Filing No. 9-2 at 18.]
• At Step Four, relying on the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”) considering Bruce W.'s RFC, he was incapable of performing any of his past relevant work as a gate guard, janitor, and industrial cleaner. [Filing No. 9-2 at 22.]
• At Step Five, relying on VE testimony considering Bruce W.'s age, education, and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could have performed through the date of the decision in representative occupations, including as an addresser, ...

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