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Sosh v. Saul

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

September 25, 2019

MICHAEL D. SOSH, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Michael D. Sosh seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Plaintiff alleges that he has been disabled since September 1, 2014, due to a variety of physical and mental impairments, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), degenerative disc disease, and cervical disc disorder.


         A. The ALJ’s Decision

         A person suffering from a disability that renders him unable to work may apply to the Social Security Administration for disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (defining disability as the “inability 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 12 months”); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that his physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only his previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering his age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A); § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         If a claimant’s application is denied initially and on reconsideration, he may request a hearing before an ALJ. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(b)(1). An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits: (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 has the residual functional capacity to perform his past relevant work, and, if not (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)[1]; Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001).

         Here, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) through the end of September 2014, but not thereafter. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of insomnia, COPD, carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis of the shoulder, lumbar spondylosis and degenerative disc disease, cervical disc disease, obesity, and generalized anxiety disorder. The ALJ stated that these impairments had more than a minimal impact on Plaintiff’s ability to work. Specifically, they limited Plaintiff’s physical capacities for sitting and standing for prolonged periods without alternative positions, using his upper extremities, lifting and carrying heavy items, tolerating certain environmental factors and working around hazards. His capacity to perform mental demands of work were limited with respect to the completion of complex tasks or detailed work decisions, working at a fast or regimented pace, and interacting with others.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments.” (R. 51.) The ALJ considered listings 1.02 (Major dysfunction of a joint), 1.04 (Disorders of the spine), and 3.02 (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), as well as Social Security Ruling 02-1p (Obesity). The ALJ noted:

The discussion of the evidence that follows at finding number five shows there is no objective, clinical, or medical opinion evidence to support a finding that the claimant’s impairments meet any of the listings in the Regulations. Furthermore, the State agency medical consultants determined the claimant did not have any condition that met a listing.

(R. 51.) The ALJ also noted that a finding of medical equivalency required an opinion from an acceptable medical source designated by the Commissioner. The State agency physicians in this case “determined that there is no medical equivalency.” (Id.)

         Before moving to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The RFC included numerous postural and environmental limitations and noted that Plaintiff required a sit/stand option that would allow him to change positions after thirty minutes.

         Based on the above RFC and her hypothetical questions to the vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not able to perform his past relevant work, but that there were other jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.

         B. Standard of Review

          A claimant who is found to be “not disabled” may challenge the Commissioner’s final decision in federal court. This Court must affirm the ALJ’s decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is “evidence a reasonable person ...

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