United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
OPINION AND ORDER
William C. Lee, Judge United States District Court.
matter is before the court for judicial review of a final
decision of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security
Administration denying Plaintiff's application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security
Income (SSI) as provided for in the Social Security Act. 42
U.S.C. § 423(a), § 1382c(a)(3). Section 405(g) of
the Act provides, inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer,
the [Commissioner] shall file a certified copy of the
transcript of the record including the evidence upon which
the findings and decision complained of are based. The court
shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without
remanding the case for a rehearing." It also provides,
"[t]he findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . .
." 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
provides that an applicant for disability insurance benefits
must establish an "inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §416(i)(1); 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(1)(A). A physical or mental impairment is
"an impairment that results from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are
demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3). It is
not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an impairment
exists. It must be shown that the impairment is severe enough
to preclude the plaintiff from engaging in substantial
gainful activity. Gotshaw v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840
(7th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 945 (1963);
Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp. 1098 (N.D.Ill.
1979). It is well established that the burden of proving
entitlement to disability insurance benefits is on the
plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d 36
(7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v. Cohen, 425 F.2d 20 (7th
the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this
court] is whether the record as a whole contains substantial
evidence to support the [Commissioner's] findings."
Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir.
1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786
(7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial
evidence is defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'"
Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir.
1984) quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v.
Weinberger, 552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If
the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed, 42
U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of
law." Garfield, supra at 607; see
also Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir.
present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made the
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through September 30, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 16, 2014 the alleged onset date (20
416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following “severe”
impairments: dysfunction of major joints; obesity;
degenerative disc disease; and chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD)(20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526,
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, he can lift and
carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, sit 6
hours in and [sic] 8-hour workday, and stand/walk 6 hours in
an 8-hpour [sic] workday. The claimant is limited to frequent
operation foot controls with the left lower extremity. The
claimant can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He can occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can never work
at unprotected heights or around moving mechanical parts. He
should avoid even moderate exposure to dust, odors, fumes and
6. The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work
as a Security Guard. This work does not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by the
claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565
7. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined
in the Social Security Act, from October 16, 2014, through
the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(f) and
(Tr. 12 - 22).
upon these findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not entitled to disability benefits. The ALJ's decision
became the final agency decision when the Appeals Council
denied review. This appeal followed.
filed his opening brief on May 15, 2019. On July 23, 2019,
the defendant filed a memorandum in support of the
Commissioner's decision, to which Plaintiff replied on
August 19, 2019. Upon full review of the record in this
cause, this court is of the view that the ALJ's decision
must be remanded.
five-step test has been established to determine whether a
claimant is disabled. See Singleton v. Bowen, 841
F.2d 710, 711 (7th Cir. 1988); Bowen v. Yuckert, 107
S.Ct. 2287, 2290-91 (1987). The United States Court of
Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has summarized that test as
The following steps are addressed in order: (1) Is the
claimant presently unemployed? (2) Is the claimant's
impairment "severe"? (3) Does the impairment meet
or exceed one of a list of specific impairments? (4) Is the
claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation? (5)
Is the claimant unable to perform any other work within the
economy? An affirmative answer leads either to the next step
or, on steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than step 3,
stops the inquiry and leads to a determination that the
claimant is not disabled.
Nelson v. Bowen, 855 F.2d 503, 504 n.2 (7th Cir.
1988); Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2
(7th Cir. 1985); accord Halvorsen v. Heckler, 743
F.2d 1221 (7th Cir. 1984). From the nature of the ALJ's
decision to deny benefits, it is clear that step four was the
October 2014 and January 2017, Plaintiff treated at Robbins
Health Center for diabetes mellitus, diabetic nephropathy,
degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, obesity,
hypertension, hyperlipidemia and depression. (AR 373- 76,
409-413, 474-76, 524-59.) During a psychiatric evaluation in
March 2015, Plaintiff complained of depression. (AR 401.) His
symptoms included low mood and poor energy. (AR 401.) He
stated that his primary care physician started him on Prozac
in February 2015. (AR 402.) Examining psychiatrist R.
Hall-Ngorima, MD, observed depressed mood and affect, and
diagnosed depressive disorder. (AR 403.)
request of the Social Security Agency, Plaintiff underwent an
internal medicine consultative examination in June 2015.
Plaintiff complained of elevated blood glucose levels, left
knee pain and depression. (AR 423-24.) Consultative examiner
R. Kharwadkar, MD noted that Plaintiff was 70 ¼ inches
tall and weighed 332.1 pounds. (AR 424.) Dr. Kharwadkar also
observed that he had an abnormal and limping gait to the
left. (AR 425.) Dr. Kharwadkar diagnosed morbid obesity,