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Wesenick v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 18, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge United States District Court

         This is an action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Dawn Wesenick's application for disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. For the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.


         Wesenick, currently age 48, resides with her husband and thirteen-year-old daughter in Wausau, Wisconsin. R. 94. Prior to 2006, Wesenick worked at a scissor company as a general laborer for fifteen years. R. 102. Wesenick initially applied for disability and disability insurance benefits on November 6, 2006, alleging disability beginning April 14, 2006. R. 143. She claimed she was disabled due to multiple sclerosis, osteomyelitis of the lumbar spine resolved, arthritis of the lumbar spine, obesity, and depressive and anxiety disorders. R. 146. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. After these denials, Wesenick filed a request for an administrative hearing. Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Wendy Weber held a hearing at which Wesenick, who was represented by counsel, an impartial medical expert, and a vocational expert (VE) testified. R. 143. On January 21, 2010, ALJ Weber concluded Wesenick had the ability to perform light work after her closed period of disability from April 14, 2006 to April 15, 2007. R. 146-51.

         Wesenick submitted a second application for disability and disability insurance benefits on November 6, 2012. R. 214. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied Wesenick's second application on March 15, 2013. After her application and request for reconsideration were denied, she requested an administrative hearing. ALJ Ben Willner held a hearing on October 24, 2014. Both Wesenick, who was represented by counsel, and a VE testified at the hearing. R. 79-113.

         In a decision dated January 20, 2015, ALJ Willner determined Wesenick was not disabled. R. 19-30. The ALJ concluded Wesenick met the insured status requirements and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 17, 2011, her amended alleged onset date. R. 22. The ALJ found Wesenick had three severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, multiple sclerosis, and migraine headaches. At step three, the ALJ determined Wesenick's impairments did not meet or medically equal any listed impairments under 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 24. The ALJ concluded Wesenick had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except: she could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequently balance, stoop kneel, crouch, and crawl; and should avoid all exposure to hazards.

Id. With these limitations, the ALJ found that Wesenick was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 28. Nevertheless, the ALJ concluded Wesenick was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act because there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. R. 28-29. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Wesenick's request for review on May 27, 2016. R. 1. Thereafter, Wesenick 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 the 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 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. 2010) (citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 93-95 (1943); Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 307 (7th Cir. 2010)).


         Wesenick's sole argument in this case is that the ALJ erred by failing to include limitations attributed to her migraines in the RFC. An RFC is an administrative assessment describing the extent to which an individual's impairments may cause physical or mental limitations or restrictions that could affect her ability to work. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2. The RFC represents “the maximum a person can do-despite his limitations-on a ‘regular and continuing basis, ' which means roughly eight hours a day for five days a week.” Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting SSR 69-8p). In forming the RFC, an ALJ must review all of the relevant evidence in the record, including any information about the claimant's symptoms and any opinions from medical sources about what she can still do despite her impairments. SSR 96-8p at *2.

         Wesenick asserts that although the ALJ found her migraines to be a severe impairment, he erred by failing to include limitations regarding her migraines in the RFC. She contends that the ALJ failed to provide a narrative or articulate a sufficient rationale for rejecting any associated limitations. Pl.'s Br. at 6, ECF No. 11. Wesenick also argues the ALJ did not include any limitations created by her migraines, such as missing days from work, working with computer screens, or working with fluorescent lighting that may be caused by her migraines. Id. at 10. Because of the ...

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