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Andrew H. v. Saul

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

August 21, 2019

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



         Plaintiff Andrew H. (“Andrew”) has appealed the final decision of the Commissioner (“Commissioner”) of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying his September 29, 2014, application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). R. (Dkt. 5) at 16. The application was initially denied on December 3, 2014, R. at 128, and upon reconsideration on February 23, 2015. R. at 133. The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on December 8, 2016, R. at 66, and a supplemental hearing on February 7, 2017, R. at 37, resulting in a decision on April 12, 2017, that Andrew was not disabled and thus not entitled to receive DIB. R. at 13. The Appeals Council denied review on March 5, 2018, and the Commissioner's decision became final. R. at 1. On May 1, 2018, Andrew timely filed this civil action seeking judicial review of the decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Dkt. 1.

         For the reasons below, the decision is reversed and the case remanded for action consistent with this order.

         Background [2]

         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation set forth by the SSA, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i) to (v), in concluding that Andrew was not disabled. Specifically, the ALJ found as follows:

• Andrew last met the insured status requirements for DIB on December 31, 2015 (the date last insured or “DLI”).[3] R. at 18.
• At Step One, Andrew had not engaged in substantial gainful activity[4] since the alleged onset date of disability. Id.
• At Step Two, he had the following severe impairments: “status post cervical spinal cord injury with associated neuropathy of the upper extremities and allodynia of T11 dermatome.” Id. (citation 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. R. at 20.
• After Step Three but before Step Four, Andrew had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) “to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he can lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. He can stand and/or walk six of eight hours and sit six of eight hours with normal breaks. He can never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He can perform all other postural activities frequently. He must avoid all use of dangerous moving machinery and exposure to unprotected heights. He must avoid constant exposure to excessive vibration. He can tolerate a noise level of 3. He must be allowed to be off task not to exceed 10% of the workday and absent one day per month.” R. at 21.
• At Step Four, relying on the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”) and considering Andrew's RFC, he was capable of performing his past relevant work as a production manager and purchasing agent. R. at 26.
• In the alternative, at Step Five, relying on the testimony of the VE and in light of Andrew's age (54 years of age on the DLI), education (at least a high school graduate), and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could have performed using transferrable skills acquired through his past work, including office record keeping skills, supervising, hiring, firing, and scheduling. R. at 27-28. Additionally, considering those same factors, there were unskilled jobs at the light exertional level that he could have performed, including as a cashier, sales attendant, and collator operator. R. at 28.

         Standard of Review

          Upon review of the Commissioner's decision,

[w]e will uphold [it] if it applies the correct legal standard and is supported by substantial evidence. Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Id. (quoting Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007)). A decision denying benefits need not discuss every piece of evidence, but if it lacks an adequate discussion of the issues, it will be remanded. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009). Our review is limited to the reasons articulated by the ALJ in her decision. Larson v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 744, 749 (7th Cir. 2010).

Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 306 (7th Cir. 2010). In determining whether the decision was properly supported, we neither reweigh the evidence nor assess the credibility of witness, nor substitute our judgment for the Commissioner's. Lopez ex rel. ...

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