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Victor v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

July 8, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration[1], Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Gregory John Victor's (“Victor”) appeal of the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) Decision (ECF No. 3 at 45-63) dated January 31, 2017. Victor filed his Brief (ECF No. 13) on January 26, 2018. Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the SSA (the “Commissioner”) filed her Memorandum in Support of Commissioner's Decision (ECF No. 18) on May 4, 2018. Victor filed his Reply Brief (ECF No. 19) on May 8, 2018. This matter is now ripe for determination.


         Victor filed his application for Social Security disability benefits on November 3, 2011. The application was denied on December 8, 2011. Victor then filed his Request for Reconsideration on January 12, 2012, which was denied on February 6, 2012. A Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was filed on March 30, 2012. The ALJ entered his decision on March 22, 2013, finding that Victor was not disabled.

         Victor filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order on May 23, 2013. That Request was denied by the Appeals Council on July 23, 2014. Victor then filed his first Complaint for judicial review on September 9, 2014. On January 14, 2016, this Court entered an Order remanding the case for further proceedings. As a result, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision on February 2, 2016, and remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings.

         On January 31, 2017, a different ALJ entered the Decision finding again that Victor was not disabled. A Request for Review of Hearing Order/Decision was filed on February 3, 2017. On May 25, 2017, the Appeals Council declined to accept jurisdiction over the Request. This constituted the Commissioner's final decision. Victor filed his second Complaint with this Court on July 13, 2017.


         A. Standard of Review

         The decision of the ALJ is the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denies a request for review. Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736, 739 (7th Cir. 2009). The Social Security Act establishes that the Commissioner's findings as to any fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995). Thus, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's finding of fact and denial of disability benefits if substantial evidence supports them. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Henderson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 507, 512 (7th Cir. 1999).

         It is the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of the case accordingly. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 399- 400. The reviewing court examines the entire record; however, it does not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reconsidering facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. See Diaz, 55 F.3d at 305-06. The Court will “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, and “the decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues.” Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted).

         When an ALJ recommends the denial of benefits, the ALJ must first “provide a logical bridge between the evidence and [the ALJ's] conclusions.” Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Though the ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, “as with any well-reasoned decision, the ALJ must rest its denial of benefits on adequate evidence contained in the record and must explain why contrary evidence does not persuade.” Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008). However, if substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination, the decision must be affirmed even if “reasonable minds could differ concerning whether [the claimant] is disabled.” Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         B. Analysis

         Rather than attack the findings of the ALJ regarding his claimed disability, Victor raises two technical issues on appeal. First, Victor asserts that this matter must be remanded because certain parts of the typed transcript of the August 10, 2016, hearing reflect the fact that the Court reporter could not hear and/or understand the testimony that was offered. In support of this argument, Victor directs the Court to its decision in Borowski v. Heckler, 581 F.Supp. 549 (N.D. Ind. 1984), which included an excerpt from a House of Representatives Conference Report stating that remand may be appropriate where “the tape recording of plaintiff's oral hearing is lost or inaudible.” Id. at 553.

         The Court has reviewed the transcript of the hearing, as well as the cases cited by Victor, and concludes that the identified issues with the transcript do not require remand. Victor identifies twenty-two instances of inaudible testimony over the course of an eighty-eight-page transcript. (ECF No. 13 at 17). This number, in and of itself, does not indicate a transcript that is so deficient as to hinder a fair review. See, e.g., Ward v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 844, 848 (8th Cir. 1986) (one to two instances of inaudible testimony per page did not interfere with comprehension of the testimony). Nor does the Court find that the occasional and brief inaudible excerpts materially affect the ability of the Court to discern the scope of the proceedings. See Borowski, supra (no transcript required remand); Bianchi v. Sec. of Health and ...

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