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Jamie S. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 23, 2019

JAMIE S., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jamie S. seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner’s decision denying his disability benefits and asks this Court to remand the case. For the reasons below, this Court remands the Administrative Law Judge’s decision.

         A. Overview of the Case

         Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI. In his application, Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on March 22, 1994. (R. at 10.) After a hearing in 2017, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of anxiety and depression. (R. at 12.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (R. at 19.) The ALJ did, however, find that a number of jobs existed which Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 19–20.) Therefore, the ALJ found him to be not disabled since June 19, 2015, the date the application was filed. (R. at 20.) This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review. (R. at 1.)

         B. Standard of Review

         This Court has authority to review the Commissioner’s decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will ensure that the ALJ built an “accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). This requires the ALJ to “confront the [plaintiff’s] evidence” and “explain why it was rejected.” Thomas v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 953, 961 (7th Cir. 2016). The Court will uphold decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Evidence is substantial if “a reasonable mind might accept [it] as adequate to support [the ALJ’s] conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).

         C. Disability Standard

         The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:

(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 can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). The claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         D. Analysis

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ committed four reversible errors: the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff’s mental impairments at steps two and three; the ALJ failed to properly account for Plaintiff’s mental limitations in the RFC; the ALJ improperly weighed medical opinion evidence; and the ALJ erred in analyzing Plaintiff’s subjective symptoms.

         (1) Medical Opinion Evidence

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in weighing the opinions of consultative examiners Dr. Charles Balke and Dr. Alan Stage. Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Stage in 2014, and the ALJ failed to discuss Dr. Stage’s opinion, let alone afford ...


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