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Holz v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 19, 2016

MELISSA HOLZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance. Plaintiff, Melissa Holz, challenges the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) decision denying her benefits. For the reasons given below, the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed and remanded for further proceedings.


         Holz filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance on April 7, 2011, alleging disability due to multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia. She was 41 years of age at the time. Holz was diagnosed with MS in 2001. R. 432. The record indicates that, in 2010, even though her MS was “stable without any significant recent flare-ups, ” Holz received treatment for memory loss and fatigue attributed to the MS. R. 798. In 2010, Holz was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. R. 310. She also suffered from depression and anxiety for many years. R. 311, 715, 717.

         The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Holz's application on August 18, 2011. R. 111. After her application and request for reconsideration were denied, Holz requested an administrative hearing. R. 128. ALJ Patrick Morrison held a hearing on November 5, 2013. Both Holz and a vocational expert (VE) testified at the hearing. R. 36-83.

         The ALJ found Holz's severe impairments included relapsing and remitting MS, fibromyalgia, obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, major depression, and anxiety. R. 92. At step three, the ALJ determined that Holz's impairments did not meet or medically equal any listed impairments under 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 93. The ALJ found that the degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine did not meet the requirements of section 1.04 because Holz was able to ambulate effectively. Id. The ALJ also concluded the MS did not meet the requirements of section 11.09 because it did not result in a significant and persistent disorganization of motor functioning in two extremities and did not lead to visual or mental impairment. Id. The ALJ found that Holz had moderate difficulties in social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace but found that Holz's mental impairments were not so severe as to meet or medically equal the criteria of listings in 12.04 and 12.06. Id. The ALJ determined Holz had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) except she is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks requiring no more than simple work-related decisions with few changes in the routine work setting and no more than occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public.

         R. 94. With these limitations, the ALJ found that Holz was unable to perform past relevant work as an inventory analyst, inventory data entry, procurement clerk, and production planner. R. 99.

         However, the ALJ found that given Holz's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy she could perform. Id. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded Holz was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. R. 100. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Counsel denied Holz's request for review on May 5, 2015. R. 1. Thereafter, Holz commenced this action for judicial review.


         On judicial review, a court will uphold the Commissioner's decision if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and supported his decision with substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind could accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Schaaf v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869, 874 (7th Cir. 2010) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Although a decision denying benefits need not discuss every piece of evidence, remand is appropriate when an ALJ fails to provide adequate support for the conclusions drawn. Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011). The ALJ must provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and his conclusions. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).

         The ALJ is also expected to follow the Agency's own rulings and regulations in making a determination. Failure to do so, unless the error is harmless, requires reversal. Prochaska v. Barnhart, 454 F.3d 731, 736-37 (7th Cir. 2006). In reviewing the entire record, the court does not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reconsidering facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998). Finally, judicial review is limited to the rationales offered by the ALJ. Shauger v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 697 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 93-95 (1943); Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 307 (7th Cir. 2010)).


         A. ...

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