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Cencelewski v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 26, 2019



          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner’s decision dated July 5, 2017, denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act respectively. This Court may enter a ruling in this matter based on parties’ consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons discussed below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s decision.

         I. Overview of the Case

         Plaintiff is a veteran who completed one year of college and was 39 years old on the alleged disability onset date of May 9, 2012. Plaintiff suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), memory loss, repressed immune system, sleep apnea, gastrointestinal problems, back pain, joint soreness, and high cholesterol. Plaintiff previously worked as a plater, production manager, and sales representative technician.

         After considering the record developed as part of Plaintiff’s instant DIB and SSI applications dated August 22, 2012, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision on July 5, 2014, finding him not to be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act (“Act”). On judicial review, this Court remanded Plaintiff’s case to the SSA for further proceedings finding error in the July 2014 ALJ decision. See Cencelewski v. Berryhill, CAUSE NO. 3:15-CV-00580, 2017 WL 1141097 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 28, 2017).

         Upon remand, the SSA’s Appeals Council assigned Plaintiff’s case to a new ALJ who held a new hearing on April 28, 2017. Plaintiff testified at the hearing along with Michael C. Rabin, Ph.D., an impartial psychological expert, Gilberto Munoz M.D., an impartial medical expert, and a vocational expert. On July 5, 2017, the ALJ issued his decision and again found Plaintiff not disabled. On January 17, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review making the ALJ’s July 2017 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See Fast v. Barnhart, 397 F.3d 468, 470 (7th Cir. 2005). Now ripe before this Court is Plaintiff’s complaint for judicial review of the Commissioner’s July 2017 decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. Disability Standard

         In order to qualify for DIB and SSI, a claimant must be “disabled” under Sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1615(a)(3)(A) of the Act. A person is disabled under the Act if “he or she has an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Commissioner’s five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Act includes determinations as to: (1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity (“SGA”); (2) whether the claimant’s impairments are severe; (3) whether any of the claimant’s impairments, alone or in combination, meet or equal one of the Listings in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part 404; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work based upon her RFC; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of making an adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920[1]; see also 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).

         III. Standard of Review

         This Court has authority to review a disability decision by the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, this Court’s role in reviewing Social Security cases is limited. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). A court reviews the entire administrative record, but does not reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts of evidence, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). The Court must give deference to the ALJ’s decision so long as it is supported by substantial evidence. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Similia v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009)). The deference for the ALJ’s decision is lessened where the ALJ’s findings contain errors of fact or logic or fail to apply the correct legal standard. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 709 (7th Cir. 2013).

         Additionally, an ALJ’s decision cannot be affirmed if it lacks evidentiary support or an inadequate discussion of the issues. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). An ALJ’s decision will lack sufficient evidentiary support and require remand if it is clear that the ALJ “cherry-picked” the record to support a finding of non-disability. Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the record to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning and to be assured the ALJ has considered the important evidence in the record. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). While the ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence in the record to present the requisite “logical bridge” from the evidence to his conclusions, the ALJ must at least provide a glimpse into the reasoning behind his analysis and the decision to deny benefits. O’Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Thus, the question upon judicial review is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled, but whether the ALJ used “the correct legal standards and the decision [was] supported by substantial evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th. Cir. 2007). Thus, substantial evidence is simply “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017).

         IV. Analysis

         A. Issues for Review

         Plaintiff challenges the ALJ’s RFC determination alleging errors of law and lack of the necessary logical bridge from the evidence to the mental RFC. A claimant’s RFC is the most activity in which he can engage in a work setting despite the physical and mental limitations that arise from his impairments and related symptoms. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). According to the ALJ, Plaintiff retains the RFC to perform light work with some postural, environmental, and mental limitations. [DE 9 at 1607–08].

         Plaintiff specifically alleges that the ALJ improperly weighed some of the medical opinion evidence in the record, particularly the opinions of a State Agency psychological consultant, two consultative psychological examiners, and the testifying psychological expert. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred in his analysis of Plaintiff’s social functioning deficits, his limitations arising from fatigue and concentration issues, and his subjective symptoms. Lastly, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred by failing to consider three third-party function reports. Despite the Commissioner’s ...

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