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William T. v. Saul

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

July 9, 2019

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



         Plaintiff William T. protectively applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on April 13, 2015, alleging an onset date of February 1, 2014. [ECF No. 7-2 at 11.] His applications were initially denied on June 9, 2015, [ECF No. 7-4 at 2; ECF No. 7-4 at 6], and upon reconsideration on July 13, 2015, [ECF No. 7-4 at 12; ECF No. 7-4 at 15]. Administrative Law Judge Daniel Mages (the “ALJ”) conducted a hearing on March 22, 2017. [ECF No. 7-2 at 31-57.] During the hearing, the Plaintiff amended his alleged onset of disability to February 21, 2014. [ECF No. 7-2 at 11; see ECF No. 7-2 at 34.] The ALJ issued a decision on June 28, 2017, concluding that the Plaintiff was not entitled to receive DIB or SSI. [ECF No. 7-2 at 8.] The Appeals Council denied review on April 16, 2018. [ECF No. 7-2 at 2.] On June 12, 2018, the Plaintiff 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). [ECF 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 (7th Cir. 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), [2] 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). “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. See 20 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).



          The Plaintiff was 44 years of age at the time he applied for DIB and SSI. [ECF No. 7-5 at 2.] He has completed a high school education, specialized training in auto body repair, and a certification in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (“HVAC”). [ECF No. 7-6 at 7.] He previously worked as a sales representative in retail. [ECF No. 7-6 at 7.][3]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) and ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled. [ECF No. 7-2 at 23.] Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

• The Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements for DIB on September 30, 2016 (the date last insured or “DLI”).[4] [ECF No. 7-2 at 13.]
• At Step One, the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[5] since February 21, 2014, the amended onset date. [ECF No. 7-2 at 13.]
• At Step Two, he had “the following severe impairments: a partial tear in the right wrist with tendinopathy, right cubital tunnel syndrome, degenerative disc disease, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, anemia, and obesity.” [ECF No. 7-2 at 13 (internal 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. [ECF No. 7-2 at 15.]
• After Step Three but before Step Four, he had the RFC “to perform a range of light work (20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)) defined as follows: sitting up to thirty minutes at one time and six hours during an eight-hour workday; standing and/or walking up to thirty minutes at one time and six hours during an eight-hour workday, with the use of a cane for walking; lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling; no climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequent fingering, handling, and reaching with the non-dominant right upper extremity; and occasional exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, humidity, dusts, fumes, gases, and other respiratory irritants.” [ECF No. 7-2 at 16.]
• At Step Four, relying on the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”) and considering the Plaintiff's RFC, he was incapable of performing any of his past relevant work as a building maintenance ...

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