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Barr v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

September 11, 2019

JIM W. BARR, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSHUA P. KOLAR MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed by Plaintiff Jim W. Barr on April 24, 2018, and an Opening Brief of Plaintiff in Social Security Appeal [DE 23], filed on December 21, 2018. Plaintiff requests that the February 22, 2018 decision of the Administrative Law Judge denying his claim for supplemental security income be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits or, in the alternative, for a new hearing. The Commissioner filed a motion to remand this case for a new hearing, which was opposed by Plaintiff. The Court denied that motion on March 19, 2019, and reset the briefing deadlines on the sole issue of whether an award of benefits or a new hearing is the proper course of action. The Commissioner filed a response on April 2, 2019, and Plaintiff filed a reply on April 12, 2019. For the following reasons, the Court remands this matter for further administrative proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability as of June 29, 2012. The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). On October 25, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable hearing decision finding that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from June 29, 2012, through October 25, 2013. Plaintiff appealed this decision, which ended up in federal court in a different cause of action.

         Plaintiff filed a new claim for supplemental security income on March 9, 2015, alleging disability as of October 26, 2013. On June 9, 2015, Plaintiff was awarded benefits on this new claim as of January 2015.

         On September 29, 2015, Magistrate Judge Andrew P. Rodovich of the Northern District of Indiana issued an Order reversing the October 25, 2013 decision of the ALJ and remanding for further administrative proceedings. This Order was issued based on the parties' agreement that remand was proper. Judge Rodovich ordered:

On remand, the Appeals Council will direct the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to consider the plaintiff's credibility further and to explain the basis for any credibility finding fully. Additionally, the ALJ should consider the evidence of record, including the “Report of Psychiatric Status” at pages 379 through 384 of the administrative record.

(AR 724[1]). The Appeals Council remanded the matter (that is, Plaintiff's first claim) for a new hearing before an ALJ. The case was assigned to a new ALJ, who chose to reopen the second claim. The ALJ held a hearing on both claims and, subsequently, issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled until May 28, 2015. Plaintiff filed exceptions with the Appeals Council, which, on March 6, 2017, vacated the unfavorable portion of the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for a new decision for the period prior to May 28, 2015.

         The ALJ held a new hearing on September 6, 2017. On December 21, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The ALJ issued an amended unfavorable decision on February 22, 2018, making the following findings:[2]

1. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity since June 29, 2012, the application date.
2. The claimant had the following severe impairments: status post surgery of the lumbar spine (back) with residual degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spines; diabetes mellitus; bipolar disorder; borderline split personality disorder; depression; and post-traumatic stress disorder.
3. The claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the [ALJ found] that, prior to May 28, 2015, the claimant had the physical residual functional capacity to perform light work activity as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b), except that he could not reach overhead with his left upper extremity on a frequent basis, but could do so on an occasional basis. As to postural changes, he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch, but could never crawl or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. With respect to his work environment, he had to avoid slippery and/or uneven surfaces, unprotected heights, and hazards. The claimant retained the mental residual functional capacity to understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, make judgments on simple work-related decisions, respond appropriately to usual work situations, and deal with changes in a routine work setting. As to social interactions, he could interact with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public on an occasional basis.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work.
6. The claimant was born [in 1960] and was 52 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the date the application was filed.
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English.
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work.
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national ...

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