United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DECISION ON COMPLAINT FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW
McVicker Lynch United States Magistrate Judge.
applied in February 2015 for Disability Insurance Benefits
and in April 2015 for Supplemental Security Income disability
benefits under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social
Security Act. Marvin’s applications alleged that he had
become disabled as of May 2012, but he later amended his
onset date to December 1, 2013. (R. 275). Acting for the
Commissioner following a hearing on April 4, 2017,
administrative law judge T. Whitaker issued a decision on
August 17, 2017, that Marvin is not disabled. The Appeals
Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision on May 4,
2018, rendering the ALJ’s decision for the Commissioner
final. Marvin timely filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) for review of the Commissioner’s
contends that the ALJ erred in three respects. He asserts
that the ALJ did not (1) properly account in the RFC for the
effects of his impairments on his mental abilities to
concentrate, persist, and maintain pace, (2) properly
evaluate the opinions of his treating physician, Dr. Means,
regarding his functional abilities, and (3) properly evaluate
statements in a disability report made by a friend regarding
court will first describe the legal framework for analyzing
disability claims and the court’s standard of review
and then address Marvin’s assertions of error.
for Proving Disability
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). Marvin is disabled if his impairments are of
such severity that he is not able to perform the work he
previously engaged in and, if 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 has implemented these
statutory standards by, in part, prescribing a five-step
sequential evaluation process for determining disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one asks if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; if he is, then he is not disabled. Step two
asks whether the claimant’s impairments, singly or in
combination, are severe; if they are not, then he is not
disabled. A severe impairment is one that
“significantly limits [a claimant’s] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). The third step is an analysis of whether
the claimant’s impairments, either singly or in
combination, meet or equal the criteria of any of the
conditions in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. The Listing of Impairments includes
medical conditions defined by criteria that the SSA has
predetermined are disabling, so that if a claimant meets all
of the criteria for a listed impairment or presents medical
findings equal in severity to the criteria for a listed
impairment, then the claimant is presumptively disabled and
qualifies for benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).
claimant’s impairments do not satisfy a listing, then
his residual functional capacity (RFC) is determined for
purposes of steps four and five. RFC is a claimant’s
ability to do work on a regular and continuing basis despite
his impairment-related physical and mental limitations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545. At the fourth step, if the claimant
has the RFC to perform his past relevant work, then he is not
disabled. The fifth step asks whether there is work in the
relevant economy that the claimant can perform, based on his
vocational profile (age, work experience, and education) and
RFC; if so, then he is not disabled.
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987). If
the claimant meets that burden, then the Commissioner has the
burden at step five to show that work exists in significant
numbers in the national economy that the claimant can
perform, given his vocational profile and functional
capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2); Young v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
for Review of the ALJ’s Decision
review of the Commissioner’s (or ALJ’s) factual
findings is deferential. A court must affirm if no error of
law occurred and if the findings are supported by substantial
evidence. Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7thCir. 2001). Substantial evidence means
evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion. Id. The standard demands more
than a scintilla of evidentiary support, but it does not
demand a preponderance of the evidence. Wood v.
Thompson, 246 F.3d 1026, 1029 (7th Cir.
is required to articulate a minimal, but legitimate,
justification for her 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 her decision, but she
cannot ignore a line of evidence that undermines the
conclusions she made, and she must trace the path of her
reasoning and connect the evidence to her findings and
conclusions. Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592
(7thCir. 2012); Clifford v. Apfel, 227
F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
The ALJ’s ...