United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
TAMMY R. HURLEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER REVERSING THE FINAL ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION OF
THE COMMISSIONER AND REMANDING FOR FURTHER
PEPPER United States District Judge
Tammy Hurley applied for Social Security Disability Insurance
(SSDI) on October 4, 2012. Dkt. No. 14 at 1; Tr. 64. The
Social Security Administration denied the claim on January
22, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on August 22, 2013.
Dkt. No. 13-3 at 1; Tr. 13. On September 23, 2013, the
plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) William Spalo held a video hearing on May 27,
2014. Id. On September 5, 2014, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision, dkt. no 14; tr. 10-28, and the Appeals
Council declined review on October 26, 2015. Id.;
Tr. 1-7. On December 23, 2015, the plaintiff filed a social
security complaint in federal court seeking review of the
ALJ's second decision. Dkt. No. 1. The parties have fully
briefed the appeal. The court remands the case for findings
consistent with this decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Social Security Administration provides “disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income to
persons who have a ‘disability.'”
Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21 (2003). To
qualify as “disabled, ” the claimant must
demonstrate a physical or mental impairment or impairments
“of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy.”
Id. at 23 (quoting 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A)).
The Social Security Act further “defines
‘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.'” Id. (quoting 42 U.S.C.
evaluating a claim for disability benefits, the ALJ follows a
five-step, sequential process, considering: (1) work
activity; (2) the medical severity of the plaintiff's
impairments; (3) whether the medical severity meets or equals
one of the Social Security listings; (4) the plaintiff's
residual functional capacity and past relevant work; and (5)
the plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), age, education, and work experience to
determine if the plaintiff can make an adjustment to other
work. 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(a)(4). “The claimant bears the
burden of proof at steps one through four, after which at
step five the burden shifts to the Commissioner.”
Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345,
352 (7th Cir. 2005). If it appears at any step that the
claimant is or is not disabled, the analysis ends. 20 C.F.R.
plaintiff may seek judicial review of an ALJ's decision
by operation of 42 U.S.C. §405(g). This statute provides
for limited review. Id. The court reviews the
ALJ's decision “to determine whether it reflects a
logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusions
sufficient to allow” the reviewing court “to
assess the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and
afford [the plaintiff] meaningful judicial review.”
Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014)
(citations omitted). The court will reverse only if the ALJ
failed to support the decision with substantial evidence or
committed legal error. Hopgood ex rel. L.G. v.
Astrue, 578 F.3d 696, 698 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing
Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir.
2009)). “A decision that lacks adequate discussion of
the issues will be remanded.” Moore, 743 F.3d
at 1121 (citation omitted).
The ALJ's Decision
on the five-step disability evaluation prescribed by the
SSA's regulations, the ALJ issued a written decision
reflecting the following findings. At step one, the ALJ found
that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of August 2, 2012. Dkt.
No. 13-3 at 3; Tr. 15. At step two, the ALJ found that the
plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
cardiomyopathy and left hip pain (unknown etiology).
Id. The ALJ found that the plaintiff had been
diagnosed and received treatment for these impairments, and
that they caused more than a minimal effect on her ability to
perform work activity. Id. The plaintiff's
medically determinable mental impairments of depression and
anxiety, the ALJ found, did not cause more than minimal
limitation in her ability to perform basic mental work
activities, and were, therefore, non-severe. Id. at
4; Tr. 16. At step three, the ALJ found that the claimant did
not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met
or equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 5.
determining the plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ moved to step
four, and found that she was unable to perform any past
relevant work. Id. at 9; Tr. 21.
five, the ALJ found that, considering the plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, she was capable of
making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at
10; Tr. 22. He also found that the plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in
20 C.F.R. §404.1567(d), except that she should never
climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and could only occasionally
stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl or climb ramps and stairs.
Id. at 18; Tr. 17.
on these findings, the ALJ found that the claimant was not
under a disability from August 2, 2012 through September 5,
2014, and was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d)
of the Social Security Act. Id. at 11; Tr. 23. The
Appeals Council declined to review the decision. Dkt. No 14;
appeal, the plaintiff raises four issues: (1) the ALJ's
analysis of the plaintiff's treating physician's
opinion was legally insufficient; (2) the ALJ's
credibility assessment was legally insufficient; (3) the
ALJ's RFC assessment was insufficient and not supported
by substantial evidence; and (4) the ALJ's conclusion
that plaintiff could perform other work in the national
economy was unsupported by substantial evidence because it
was based on unreasonable and faulty vocational expert