United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
L. Pryor United States Magistrate Judge
Russell G. seeks judicial review of the denial by the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) of his application for Social
Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under Title II and for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (“the Act”). See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d), 405(g). For the reasons set forth below,
this Court hereby REVERSES the ALJ's
decision denying the Plaintiff benefits and
REMANDS this matter for further
March 30, 2015, Russell filed for disability and disability
insurance benefits, alleging that his disability began on
December 4, 2010. Russell's claim was denied initially on
August 4, 2015, and upon reconsideration on December 7, 2015.
Russell then filed a written request for a hearing on
December 14, 2015, which was granted.
August 9, 2017, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Belinda J. Brown conducted the hearing, where Russell and a
vocational expert testified. On December 29, 2017, ALJ Brown
issued an unfavorable decision finding that Russell was not
disabled as defined in the Act. On July 12, 2018, the Appeals
Council denied Russell's request for review of this
decision, making the ALJ's decision final. Russell now
requests judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).
Standard of Review
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. §
423(d)(1)(A). To meet this definition, a claimant's
impairments must be of such severity that he is not able to
perform the work he previously engaged in and, 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. §
423(d)(2)(A). 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. The ALJ must consider whether:
(1) the claimant is presently [un]employed; (2) the claimant
has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3)
the claimant's impairment meets or equals any impairment
listed in the regulations as being so severe as to preclude
substantial gainful activity; (4) the claimant's residual
functional capacity leaves [him] unable to perform [his] past
relevant work; and (5) the claimant is unable to perform any
other work existing in significant numbers in the national
Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345,
351-52 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). An affirmative
answer to each step leads either to the next step or, at
steps three and five, to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Briscoe, 425
F.3d at 352. A negative answer at any point, other than step
three, terminates the inquiry and leads to a determination
that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
The claimant bears the burden of proof through step four.
Briscoe, 425 F.3d at 352. If the first four steps
are met, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five.
Id. The Commissioner must then establish that the
claimant-in light of his age, education, job experience and
residual functional capacity to work-is capable of performing
other work and that such work exists in the national economy.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).
Court reviews the Commissioner's denial of benefits to
determine whether it was supported by substantial evidence or
is the result of an error of law. Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). Evidence
is substantial when it is sufficient for a reasonable person
to conclude that the evidence supports the decision. Rice
v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 369 (7th Cir. 2004). The
standard demands more than a scintilla of evidentiary support
but does not demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood
v. Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir. 2001). Thus,
the issue before the Court is not whether Russell is
disabled, but, rather, whether the ALJ's findings were
supported by substantial evidence. Diaz v. Chater,
55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir. 1995).
substantial-evidence determination, the Court must consider
the entire administrative record but not “reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility,
or substitute our own judgment for that of the
Commissioner.” Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d
863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Court must
conduct a critical review of the evidence before affirming
the Commissioner's decision, and the decision cannot
stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate
discussion of the issues, Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003); see
also Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
ALJ denies benefits, he must build an “accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, ”
Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872, articulating 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, and he 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 at 872.
was 53 years old at the time of the alleged onset date in
2010 and was 60 at the time of his hearing. [Dkt. 8-7 at 10
(R. 273).] He obtained his General Educational Development
(“GED”) certification. [Dkt. 8-2 at 37 (R. 36).]
The Plaintiff has past relevant work history as a service
manager and as a taxi driver. [Dkt. 8-3 at 33 (R. 296); Dkt.
8-2 at 38-40 (R. 37-39).]
determining whether Russell qualified for benefits under the
Act, the ALJ went through the five-step analysis required by
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). At step one, the ALJ found that
Russell was insured through December 31, 2016 and had not
been engaged in substantial gainful activity since his
alleged onset date of disability. [Dkt. 8-2 at 16 (R. 15).]
At step two, the ALJ found that Russell's severe
impairments included “right shoulder tendonopathy
(sic), osteoarthritis, and tears; left shoulder
tenosynovitis, osteoarthritis and tears; and right knee
meniscal tear, ” along with the non-severe impairment
of depression. [Id.]
three, the ALJ considered relevant listings for shoulder
impairments, knee impairments, and mental impairments, and
determined that Russell did not meet or equal any of the
listings. [Dkt. 5-2 at 17-18 (R. 16-17).] Next, the ALJ
determined Russell had a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work with the following
• only lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling 20 pounds
occasionally and 10 pounds frequently;
• standing and/or walking or a combination thereof for a
total of 6 of 8 hours and sitting for 6 of 8 hours;
• frequently reaching to the left and right and
frequently reaching overhead to the left and the right;
• only climbing stairs and ramps occasionally;
• no climbing of ropes, ladders, or ...