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Christopher D. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

July 31, 2019

CHRISTOPHER D., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Christopher D. seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying his disability benefits and asks this Court to remand the case. For the reasons below, this Court remands the Administrative Law Judge's decision.

         A. Overview of the Case

         Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI. In his application, Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on September 21, 2014. (R. at 11.) After a video hearing in 2017, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”), depression, and psoriasis. (R. at 24.) Plaintiff's HIV was found to be meet Listing 14.11, and plaintiff was found to be disabled from September 21, 2014 through June 21, 2016. (Id.) Beginning June 22, 2016, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's HIV no longer met listing level severity. (R. at 16.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff is no longer capable of performing past relevant work. (R. at 19.) The ALJ did, however, find that a number of jobs existed which Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 20.) Therefore, the ALJ found him to be not disabled as of June 22, 2016. (Id.) This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1.)

         B. Standard of Review

         This Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will ensure that the ALJ built an “accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). This requires the ALJ to “confront the [plaintiff's] evidence” and “explain why it was rejected.” Thomas v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 953, 961 (7th Cir. 2016). The Court will uphold decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Evidence is substantial if “a reasonable mind might accept [it] as adequate to support [the ALJ's] conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).

         C. Disability Standard

         The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:

(1) Whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). The claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         D. Analysis

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ committed three reversible errors: the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion of the treating physician, the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion of the medical expert, and the ALJ failed to properly analyze Plaintiff's mental limitations.

         (1) Medical Opinions

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion of his treating physician, Dr. Hamid Safavi. A treating physician's opinion is to be given controlling weight because of the length and nature of the relationship unless the ALJ provides good reasons for setting aside that opinion. Brown v. Colvin, 845 F.3d 247, 252 (7th Cir. 2016). When a treating physician's opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, an ALJ must weigh it using such factors such as: the examining relationship; the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination; the ...


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