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Ritchie v. Saul

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

November 21, 2019

JIMMY DARRELL RITCHIE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HOLLY A. BRADY JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jimmy D. Ritchie seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). Plaintiff alleges that he has been disabled since November 30, 2013, due to a variety of physical impairments, including spinal stenosis, degenerating discs, pancreatitis, gout, leg numbness, carpal tunnel, and depression.

         ANALYSIS

         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”). 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).

         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); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 885 (7th Cir. 2001).

         Here, at step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 30, 2013, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of a history of chronic low back pain due to degenerative lumbar disc disease/lumbar spondylosis and mild to moderate obesity. The ALJ stated that these impairments had more than a minimal effect on Plaintiff's ability to work. Specifically, they limited Plaintiff's physical capacities for lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling heavy items, standing and walking for more than two hours during an eight-hour work day, and engaging in postural changes. His impairments additionally limited his ability to work around certain hazards in the workplace environment.

         With respect to Plaintiff's medically determinable mental impairment of depressive disorder and anxiety disorder, the ALJ determined that they did not cause more than minimal limitation on Plaintiff's ability to perform basic mental work activities. The ALJ considered the diagnosis of Stephanie Wade, Psy. D, the consulting opinions of psychologist B. Randal Horton, Psy.D., and Joelle Larsen, Ph.D, as well as nurse practitioner Beatrice Lopez's questionnaire and a Function Report completed by Plaintiff's wife.

         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. 22.) The ALJ considered listings 1.04 (Disorders of the spine) as well as Social Security Ruling 02-1p (Obesity).

         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). The RFC included numerous postural and environmental limitations and noted that Plaintiff must avoid unprotected heights.

         Based on the above RFC and his hypothetical questions to the vocational expert, 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 would accept as adequate to support the decision.” Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2007).

         In determining whether there is substantial evidence, the Court reviews the entire record. Kepple v. Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001). However, review is deferential. Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). A reviewing court will not “reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Lope ...


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