United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville Division
TRAVIS L. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON APPROPRIATE DISPOSITION
OF THE ACTION
MATTHEW P. BROOKMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) for a Report and
Recommendation as to its appropriate disposition. (Docket
No. 21). Plaintiff Travis J. seeks judicial review of the
Social Security Administration's final decision deeming
him ineligible for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). The
matter is fully briefed. (Docket No. 9; Docket
No. 19; Docket No. 20). It is recommended that
the District Judge REMAND the decision of
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
finding that Plaintiff Travis J. is not disabled.
Travis J., protectively filed his application for Title II on
October 24, 2017, for disability insurance benefits, alleging
disability beginning on December 31, 2014. (Docket No.
7-2 at ECF p. 13). His claim was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p.
13; Docket No. 7-4 at ECF p. 2; Docket No.
7-4 at ECF p. 7). Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jeffrey
L. Eastham held a hearing on April 19, 2018, at which Travis
J., represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (VE)
James Bordieri, appeared and testified. (Docket No. 7-2
at ECF p. 13).
the hearing, on May 14, 2018, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF pp. 13-24). On July
10, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, thereby
rendering it the agency's final decision for purposes of
judicial review. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p. 2). On
August 15, 2018, Travis J. timely filed this civil action,
asking the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
review the final decision of the Deputy Commissioner denying
for Proving Disability
prove disability, a claimant must show he is unable 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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). Plaintiff is disabled if his impairments are
of such severity that he is not able to perform the work he
previously engaged in and, if based on his age, education,
and work experience, he cannot engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work that exists in significant numbers
in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The
Social Security Administration (SSA) has implemented these
statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled. Step two
asks whether the claimant's impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe. If they are not, then he is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether
the claimant's impairments, either singly or in
combination, meet or medically equal the criteria of any of
the conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the Listings). The Listings
includes medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA
has pre-determined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets
all of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents
medical findings equal in severity to the criteria for the
most similarly listed impairment, then the claimant is
presumptively disabled and qualifies for benefits. Sims
v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2002).
claimant's impairments do not satisfy a listing, then his
residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for purposes
of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant's ability to do
work on a regular and continuing basis despite his
impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant has the
RFC to perform his past relevant work, then he is not
disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the
relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his
vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and
his RFC. If so, then he is not disabled.
individual claiming disability bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). If the claimant meets that burden, then
the Commissioner has the burden at step five to show that
work exists in significant numbers in the national economy
that the claimant can perform, given his age, education, work
experience, and functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(c)(2); Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995,
1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ's Decision
review of the Commissioner's (or ALJ's) factual
findings is deferential. This Court must affirm the ALJ's
decision unless it lacks the support of substantial evidence
or rests upon a legal error. See, e.g., Nelms v.
Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009); 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Substantial evidence means evidence that a
reasonable person would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7th Cir. 2001). The ALJ- not the Court-holds discretion to
weigh evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent
factual findings, and decide questions of credibility.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399- 400
(1971). Accordingly, the Court may not reevaluate facts,
reweigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for the
ALJ's. See Butera v. Apfel, 173 F.3d
1049, 1055 (7th Cir. 1999).
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for his decision to accept or reject specific
evidence of a disability. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357
F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ need not address every
piece of evidence in his decision, but he cannot ignore a
line of evidence that undermines the conclusions he made. The
ALJ must trace the path of his reasoning and connect the
evidence to his findings and conclusions. Arnett v.
Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012); Clifford
v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
The ALJ's Sequential Findings
met the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through June 30, 2021. (Docket No. 7-2 at ECF p.
15). He had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since December 31, 2014, ...