United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY JUDGE
Andrew Heazeltine seeks review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(Commissioner) denying his application for disability
insurance benefits. Plaintiff alleges that he has been
disabled since August 2013 due to chronic back pain.
Standard of Review
claimant who is found to be “not disabled” may
challenge the Commissioner's final decision in federal
court. This Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is
supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla of proof.” Kepple
v. Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001). It
means “evidence a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support the decision.” Murphy v.
Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2007); see also
Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995)
(substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation and quotations omitted).
determining whether there is substantial evidence, the Court
reviews the entire record. Kepple, 268 F.3d at 516.
However, review is deferential. Skinner v. Astrue,
478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). A reviewing court will not
“reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions
of credibility, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of
the Commissioner.” Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d
535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000)).
if, after a “critical review of the evidence, ”
the ALJ's decision “lacks evidentiary support or an
adequate discussion of the issues, ” this Court will
not affirm it. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539 (citations
omitted). While the ALJ need not discuss every piece of
evidence in the record, he “must build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion.”
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir.
2001). Further, the ALJ “may not select and discuss
only that evidence that favors his ultimate conclusion,
” Diaz, 55 F.3d at 308, but “must
confront the evidence that does not support his conclusion
and explain why it was rejected, ” Indoranto v.
Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th Cir. 2004). Ultimately,
the ALJ must “sufficiently articulate his assessment of
the evidence to assure” the court that he
“considered the important evidence” and to enable
the court “to trace the path of [his] reasoning.”
Carlson v. Shalala, 999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir.
1993) (quoting Stephens v. Heckler, 766 F.2d 284,
287 (7th Cir. 1985) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
The ALJ's Decision
person suffering from a disability that renders him unable to
work may apply to the Social Security Administration for
disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A) (defining disability as the “inability 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
12 months”). To be found disabled, a claimant must
demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent
him from doing not only his previous work, but also any other
kind of gainful employment that exists in the national
economy, considering his age, education, and work experience.
claimant's application is denied initially and on
reconsideration, he may request a hearing before an ALJ.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(b)(1). An ALJ conducts a
five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny
benefits: (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 has
the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant
work, and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing
any work in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520; Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881,
885 (7th Cir. 2001).
at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since August 30, 2013, the
alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had the severe impairment of lumbar degenerative disc
disease. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
“does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments.” (R. 21.) At step four,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), except that he had
additional postural limitations. He could only occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, or climb. Based on the
above RFC, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform
his past relevant work as a heavy equipment operator. At step
five, the ALJ found that there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform and, thus, he was not disabled.
State Agency Medical Experts
residual functional capacity (RFC) measures what work-related
activities a claimant can perform despite his limitations.
Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir.
2004). It is the most the claimant can still do. Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 675-76 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1)). A claimant's RFC must be
based upon the medical evidence in the record and other
evidence, such as testimony by the claimant or his friends
and family. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3). In making a
determination, the ALJ must decide which treating and
examining doctors' opinions should receive weight, and
explain the reasons for that finding. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527. Additionally, the ALJ's RFC assessment must
contain a narrative discussion describing how the evidence
supports the ALJ's conclusions and ...