United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
THOMAS L. DOHNER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. BRADY JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Thomas L.
Dohner's Brief (ECF No. 19), filed on January 31, 2019.
Defendant Andrew Saul, Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”), filed his
Memorandum in Support of Commissioner's Decision (ECF No.
22) on April 11, 2019. Dohner filed his Reply Brief (ECF No.
23) on April 25, 2019. This matter is now ripe for review.
filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act on November 6, 2014. His application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. On May 17, 2017, Dohner had
a hearing on his application before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ issued his decision (R.
29-37) on September 14, 2017, finding that Dohner was not
disabled (the “Decision”).
challenged the ALJ's decision by filing a request for
review with the Appeals Counsel, but that request was denied
on June 6, 2018. Dohner then filed his Complaint (ECF No. 1)
on August 8, 2018.
Standard of Review
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
“more than a mere scintilla of proof.” Kepple
v. Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001). It
means “evidence a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support the decision.” Murphy v.
Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2007); see also
Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 305 (7th Cir. 1995)
(substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation and quotations omitted).
determining whether there is substantial evidence, the Court
reviews the entire record. Kepple, 268 F.3d at 516.
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.” Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d
535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003) (quoting Clifford v. Apfel,
227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000)).
if, after a “critical review of the evidence, ”
the ALJ's decision “lacks evidentiary support or an
adequate discussion of the issues, ” this Court will
not affirm it. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539 (citations
omitted). While the ALJ need not discuss every piece of
evidence in the record, he “must build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to [the] conclusion.”
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176
(7th Cir. 2001). Further, the ALJ “may not select and
discuss only that evidence that favors his ultimate
conclusion, ” Diaz, 55 F.3d at 308, but
“must confront the evidence that does not support his
conclusion and explain why it was rejected, ”
Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th Cir.
2004). Ultimately, the ALJ must “sufficiently
articulate his assessment of the evidence to assure”
the court that he “considered the important
evidence” and to enable the court “to trace the
path of [his] reasoning.” Carlson v. Shalala,
999 F.2d 180, 181 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Stephens v.
Heckler, 766 F.2d 284, 287 (7th Cir. 1985) (internal
quotation marks omitted)).
The ALJ's Decision
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
him 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.
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 (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).
one, the ALJ found that Dohner had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since March 16, 2015. At step two, the ALJ
found that Dohner had the following severe impairments:
hypertension, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
and shoulder arthropathy. The ...