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Wadkins v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

December 19, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on a Complaint [DE 1], filed on October 29, 2018, and Plaintiff's Brief in Support of His Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security [DE 15], filed on March 15, 2019. Defendant filed a response on May 1, 2019, and Plaintiff filed a reply on June 7, 2019.

         On February 27, 2019, District Court Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr. entered an Order [DE 14] referring this matter to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation on the instant motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). This Report constitutes the undersigned Magistrate Judge's combined proposed findings and recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). For the following reasons, the Court recommends that the District Court reverse the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Report.


         On April 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning September 5, 2013. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on March 22, 2017. On August 24, 2017, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued an unfavorable decision, making the following findings:[1]

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 2, 2015, the application date.
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: complex regional pain syndrome of the right lower extremity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, mild depression, radial nerve palsy in both wrists, and degenerative joint disease in both knees.
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, [the ALJ found] that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except no crouching or climbing ladders ropes or scaffolds; occasional kneeling, crawling, stooping, balancing and climbing ramps and stairs; frequent handling and fingering bilaterally; and must avoid environments of concentrated exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights. He can do semiskilled tasks/work but is precluded from skilled work activity.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work.
6. The claimant was born [in 1974] and was 41 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date the application was filed.
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English.
8. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills.
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since April 2, 2015, the date the application was filed.

(AR 17-26[2]).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. Plaintiff filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Agency's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).


         The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the agency's final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The question before the Court is not whether the claimant is, in fact, disabled but whether the ALJ's decision “applies the correct legal standards and is supported by substantial evidence.” Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Under § 405(g), the Court must accept the Commissioner's factual findings as conclusive if they are supported by substantial evidence, which is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court reviews the entire administrative record but does not re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. See McKinzey v. Astrue, 641 F.3d 884, 890 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003)). However, “if the Commissioner commits an error of law, ” the Court may reverse the decision “without regard to the volume of evidence in support of the factual findings.” White v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 369, 373 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997)).

         At a minimum, an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning and to be assured that the ALJ considered the important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). “The ALJ also has a basic obligation to develop a full and fair record and must build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the result to afford the claimant meaningful judicial review of the administrative findings.” Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted).

         DISABILITY ...

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