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Juza v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 21, 2018

JANE M. JUZA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge

         This is an action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Jane Juza challenges the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) decision denying her benefits. For the reasons given below, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.


         On April 19, 2013, Juza filed an application for DIB and SSI, claiming she was under a disability as of November 11, 2012, due to learning disability (LD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression. R. 62, 310. At the time of her application, Juza was taking no prescription or non-prescription medications. R. 312. She listed Prevea Health-East Mason Health Center as the facility where she received treatment and named Dr. Paul Prichard as the health care professional who treated her for the conditions that limited her ability to work and from whom medical records about her conditions could be obtained. R. 313. SSA requested relevant records from Prevea, but its request was returned with the notation “We do not have the information requested.” R. 470-72.

         The Agency did receive a May 14, 2013 initial psychiatric evaluation from the Brown County Community Treatment Center. R. 515-16. Juza told a therapist there that she thought she had attention deficit disorder. She stated she had problems with school since childhood which persisted into her college education. She reported she took 25 years to complete a four-year degree. She had problems in the classroom setting maintaining focus and had to reread or restudy all of the material when she got home. She said she managed to get through school by very hard work and determination. She reported she also had problems with procrastination and motivation, and felt she could not focus for long periods of time. Staff psychiatrist B. J. Eggener noted Juza was somewhat vague about other symptoms she might be currently experiencing. She stated she had never been on psychotropic medications and had never previously been diagnosed with ADD or any other psychiatric illness. R. 515. Dr. Eggener noted on his mental status examination that Juza was alert, pleasant, and cooperative. She was appropriately groomed with adequate hygiene and appropriate dress. She did not show any significant attention problems during the course of the interview, but was a little hesitant and vague at times. Dr. Eggener found no evidence of thought disorder, no perceptual disturbances, and no abnormal thought content. Her immediate, short-term, and long-term memory were intact, and her language, expression, and comprehension were normal. Dr. Eggener diagnosed Juza with attention deficit disorder, residual type, and assessed her GAF at 55-65. Id. He noted that as an asset, Juza had “good health.” R. 516. He started her on Adderall and told her to follow-up in 4-6 weeks or as needed. Id.

         Unable to determine the extent of any impairment from the information available, the Agency arranged for a psychological consultative examination by psychologist Steve Krawiec. R. 65-67, 474-79. Juza reported to Dr. Krawiec that she had held lots of jobs but was generally let go because she “didn't fit.” R. 474. Juza said she generally got along well with others and had never had a confrontation with other employees. She said that she had tried to get into medical school for ten years and took a test to get into nursing school eleven times. She reported she had three college degrees, including one in human biology, one in chemistry, and the third in human development, but had never worked in any of these fields. Based on his evaluation and testing, Dr. Krawiec issued a report on September 16, 2013, in which he diagnosed Juza with depressive and attention deficit disorders not otherwise specified. Dr. Krawiec concluded that Juza had the cognitive capacity to manage simple job instructions. He noted that she did not display any notable difficulty with attention, concentration, or memory during the evaluation he completed with her, but had a little trouble with a short-term memory task. Dr. Krawiec stated that “persisting at tasks and maintaining adequate pace might be difficult to the degree that ADHD symptoms would interfere there.” R. 478. He did not know, however, the degree such symptoms would interfere with job activities and whether medication would ameliorate any difficulty that arose.

         A state consultative psychologist, Dr. David Biscardi, also reviewed the record on September 24, 2013, including Dr. Krawiec's report, and concluded that Juza “retained the capacity to understand, remember, carry out and sustain performance of 1-3 step tasks (but would become overwhelmed if the procedures were more complicated), complete a normal workday, interact briefly/superficially with coworkers/supervisors and adopt to changes/stressors associated with simple routine competitive work activities.” R. 73. Based on these reports and the entire record, the Agency determined Juza could return to her past work as a produce clerk and denied her application on September 25, 2013. R. 74-76.

         After the initial denial of her application, Juza then added back pain dating back to 2005 as an impairment and sought reconsideration, claiming she had arthritis in her low back. R. 174. Juza stated that because of her back pain, she could not sit long periods or drive long distances without having to stop and get out of the car, and that she definitely could not repeatedly lift boxes or bend down to pick things up and move them. Id. She further stated that she had pain every night when she laid down in her bed and could not stand and walk for long distances without being in pain. She said she was in a lot of pain when she got down on her hands and knees to scrub the floor and could no longer use exercise machines because they gave her low back pain. She claimed she had difficulty standing up after sitting and had to put her hand on her back to help her stand and walk. She said she could not work a lifting job and should be on pain pills but did not have insurance. Nevertheless, she reported that every day she took ibuprofen and used pain patches to get her through the day. Id.

         The Agency again requested medical records from Prevea based on her new claim. R. 483. The only record the Agency received in response was a report showing that Juza reported to the Emergency Department on January 19, 2014, with a complaint of a sore throat which she said had made it difficult for her to eat or drink for the past 1-2 months. R. 485. For her past medical history, she reported a motor vehicle accident in April 2006 that caused left shoulder and neck pain. She also claimed an MRI at the time showed bulging discs in her cervical spine at ¶ 5-6 and C6-7. R. 485-86. No. other physical problems, past or present, were listed.

         The Agency then arranged for a consultative physical examination by Dr. Kevin Rosteing at Mercy Family Practice clinic in De Pere. R. 493-506. Juza reported to Dr. Rosteing that she had low back pain/arthritis with onset of symptoms around 2007-2008. She stated she had x-rays and an MRI of her lumbar spine at Prevea Clinic and was told that the MRI showed a tear in a lumbar disc. R. 493. Juza reported her back pain was central and moves to the left buttock with radiation down the thigh or leg. She said it was worsened by prolonged sitting and lifting and reported she was on ibuprofen and had been on Vicodin and Tramadol previously. Id. Based on what appears to have been a lengthy interview and his physical examination, Dr. Rosteing issued a report on March 27, 2014, diagnosing Juza with lumbrosacral pain. Although he noted he did not have any medical records of previous treatment or the MRI Juza described, Dr. Rosteing stated his examination showed “she has point tenderness in the lower lumbar area around L5-S1, and this limits her ability to flex at the lower lumbar spine.” R. 506. His impression was that she had either a degenerative disc of the lower spine, or facet joint disease, though without nerve impingement. Nevertheless, Dr. Rosteing concluded that her pain limited Juza's ability to walk in a normal pace and sit for prolonged periods. He stated she would not be able to return to work as a CNA, “which requires occasional lifting or assisting of residents, stooping to pick up items, to wait on tables, to lift and carry garbage, etc.” Id. Noting that she had a masters degree, Dr. Rosteing thought it was possible Juza could find a job that would not place demands on the lower spine and that she would be able to work at least part time. Id.

         The Agency then ordered x-rays of Juza's lumbar spine and requested a comparison with x-rays taken of her spine in July 2008. Dr. Ryan Pierce, a radiologist, reviewed the x-rays and found the vertebral bodies generally preserved. He saw no evidence of acute fracture or acute malalignment, but noted a loss of intervertebral disc height at ¶ 3-L4 and L5-S1. R. 512.

         A state agency consultative physician, Dr. Bernard Stevens, reviewed the record, including Dr. Pierce's report, and concluded Juza was capable of light work with some relatively minor postural limitations. Dr. Stevens thought Juza could climb ramps/stairs only frequently, as opposed to being unlimited. She could also stoop (bend at the waist), crouch (bend at the knees), kneel, and crawl frequently. She could climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds only occasionally. R. 184-85. When Juza's application was again denied on reconsideration, she requested an administrative hearing. R. 190.

         ALJ Robert L. Bartlet, Jr., conducted a hearing on December 2, 2015 at which Juza (appearing without an attorney), a medical expert, and a vocational expert testified. R. 25. At the hearing, Juza, who was 54 years old at the time, testified that she lived alone in her apartment. R. 29. She obtained bachelors degrees in human biology, chemistry, and human development from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. R. 31. Her employment from 2000 to 2012 included work as a nurse's aide, a home attendant, a stock clerk, a counter clerk, and a secretary. Juza testified that her interstitial cystitis and her back problems prevent her from working. R. 41. She also claimed she has depression and ADHD. R. 44.

         In a decision dated February 12, 2016, the ALJ determined Juza was not disabled. R. 12-18. The ALJ concluded Juza met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2015 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 11, 2012, the alleged onset date. The ALJ found Juza's only severe impairment was disorder of the back/spine. R. 14. He concluded Juza's carpal tunnel syndrome, depressive disorder, and ADHD were nonsevere. At step three, the ALJ determined that Juza's back/spine disorder did not meet or medically equal any listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 16. The ALJ concluded Juza has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and § 416.967(b). Id. He found Juza is capable of performing past relevant work as a nurse's aide, home attendant, and stock clerk. R. 18. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded Juza was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Juza's request for review on January 24, 2017. R. 1. Thereafter, Juza commenced this action for judicial review.


         The Commissioner's final decision will be upheld if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and supported his decision with substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011). 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). 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, 662 F.3d at 811. 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 SSA's 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. ...

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