United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER
E. JONES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Lafayette alleges disability based primarily on back pain
stemming from his scoliosis. After the Social Security
Administration (SSA) denied his applications for disability
benefits, Mr. Lafayette requested and received a hearing
before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ determined
that Mr. Lafayette was capable of working notwithstanding his
impairments. Mr. Lafayette now seeks judicial review of that
Lafayette argues that the ALJ committed errors in assessing
his residual functional capacity (RFC)-that is, the most he
can still do despite his limitations. He seeks an award of
benefits or, alternatively, a remand for further proceedings.
The Commissioner contends that the ALJ did not commit an
error of law in reaching her decision and that the decision
is otherwise supported by substantial evidence. For the
reasons that follow, the Court agrees with the Commissioner
and therefore will affirm its decision denying Mr. Lafayette
Lafayette was born in Gary, Indiana, on October 12, 1971.
Transcript 28, 296, ECF Nos. 12-2-12-9. He moved to
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for his junior year of high school and
eventually obtained his diploma through Milwaukee Area
Technical College (MATC). Tr. 296. In 2000, Mr. Lafayette
began working at Aurora Sinai Medical Center as an x-ray file
clerk. Tr. 30, 202. He stopped working in 2010, however,
because he was unable to perform the increased job duties
required by his employer. Tr. 31-33, 202-08, 213-14, 237-38,
282, 284. In 2012, Mr. Lafayette began studying educational
policy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Tr. 30, 220.
He transferred to MATC for the Fall 2014 semester. Tr. 50.
Lafayette suffers from scoliosis, psychological issues,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, anemia, unintentional weight
loss, and dyspepsia. Tr. 212. He applied for disability
insurance benefits in September 2010 but was denied at the
administrative level. See Tr. 68-75. Mr. Lafayette
reapplied in February 2013, alleging that his disability
began on January 11, 2013. Tr. 188-200. This time he also
sought supplemental security income. After the SSA denied his
applications initially, Tr. 79-91, and upon reconsideration,
Tr. 92-117, Mr. Lafayette requested a hearing before an ALJ,
Tr. 146-77, 180-86.
administrative hearing was held on October 13, 2015, before
ALJ Margaret J. O'Grady. See Tr. 25-63; see
also Tr. 118-21, 178-79, 286. Mr. Lafayette was
represented by counsel at the hearing. The ALJ heard
testimony from Mr. Lafayette and William Dingess, M.S., B.S.,
an impartial vocational expert. At the time of the hearing,
Mr. Lafayette was not married, and he had a sixteen-year-old
child. Tr. 29. He was living at his cousin's house, but
he frequently moved from place to place, staying with family
or at shelters. Tr. 29, 35-36. Mr. Lafayette was, however,
taking basic skills courses at MATC. Tr. 50-54, 393-94.
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process and on
December 8, 2015, she issued a decision unfavorable to Mr.
Lafayette. Tr. 6-24. The ALJ determined that (1) Mr.
Lafayette did not engage in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date; (2) Mr. Lafayette suffered from
three "severe" impairments: scoliosis, anemia, and
hemorrhoids; (3) Mr. Lafayette did not suffer from an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of a presumptively disabling
impairment; Mr. Lafayette had the RFC to perform sedentary
work with certain physical restrictions; (4) Mr. Lafayette
could not perform his past relevant work as a file clerk and
parts transporter; and (5) Mr. Lafayette remained capable of
performing the requirements of various unskilled, sedentary
occupations. See Tr. 9-20. Based on those findings,
the ALJ concluded that Mr. Lafayette was not disabled.
the Appeals Council denied Mr. Lafayette's request for
review, Tr. 1-3, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, see
Loveless v. Colvin, 810 F.3d 502, 506 (7th Cir. 2016).
Lafayette filed this action without the assistance of counsel
on January 19, 2017, seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
See Complaint, ECF No. 1. The matter was reassigned
to this Court after the parties consented to magistrate judge
jurisdiction. See Consent to Proceed Before a
Magistrate Judge, ECF Nos. 4, 5. Mr. Lafayette subsequently
obtained counsel. See Appearance of Counsel, ECF No.
16. The matter is now fully briefed and ready for
disposition. See Plaintiffs Brief in Support of
Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, ECF No. 21; Defendant's Memorandum in Support
of the Commissioner's Decision; ECF No. 22; Plaintiffs
Reply, ECF No. 25.
Standard of Review
review of Administration decisions under the Social Security
Act is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)." Allord
v. Astrue, 631 F.3d 411, 415 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing
Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir.
2010)). Pursuant to sentence four of § 405(g), federal
courts have the power to affirm, reverse, or modify the
Commissioner's decision, with or without remanding the
matter for a rehearing.
review is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner's final decision is supported by
"substantial evidence." See § 405(g);
see also Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120-21
(7th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence is "such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion." Moore, 743 F.3d at
1120-21 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971)). The ALJ's decision must be affirmed if
it is supported by substantial evidence, "even if an
alternative position is also supported by substantial
evidence." Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697,
699 (7th Cir. 2004).
reviewing the record, courts "may not re-weigh the
evidence or substitute [their] judgment for that of the
ALJ." Skarbek v. Barnhart, 390 F.3d
500, 503 (7th Cir. 2004). Rather, reviewing
courts must determine whether the ALJ built 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); Moore, 743 F.3d
at 1121. The ALJ's decision must be reversed "[i]f
the evidence does not support the conclusion."
Beardsley, 758 F.3d at 837. Likewise, reviewing
courts must remand "[a] decision that lacks adequate
discussion of the issues." Moore, 743 F.3d at
also is warranted "if the ALJ committed an error of law
or if the ALJ based the decision on serious factual mistakes
or omissions, " regardless of whether the decision is
otherwise supported by substantial evidence.
Beardsley, 758 F.3d at 837 (citations omitted). An
ALJ commits an error of law if her decision "fails to
comply with the Commissioner's regulations and
rulings." Brown v. Barnhart, 298 F.Supp.2d 773,
779 (E.D. Wis. 2004). Reversal is not required, however, if
the error is harmless. See, e.g., Farrell v. Astrue,
692 F.3d 767, 773 (7th Cir. 2012); see also Keys v.
Barnhart, 347 F.3d 990, 994-95 (7th Cir. 2003).
Lafayette maintains that he is disabled and that the
Commissioner's decision to the contrary is not supported
by substantial evidence and is contrary to law and
regulation. See Compl. 4. He asks the Court to
reverse the ALJ's decision and award benefits. See
Pl.'s Reply 10. Alternatively, he seeks remand of
the matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings.
See Pl.'s Br. 19; Pl.'s Reply 10-11.
the Social Security Act, a person is "disabled"
only if he is unable "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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months."
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1) and
423(d)(1)(A). The disability must be sufficiently severe that
the claimant cannot return to his prior job and is not
capable of engaging in any other substantial gainful work
that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §
determining whether a person is disabled, the SSA must follow
a five-step sequential evaluation process, asking, in order:
(1) whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged onset of disability; (2) whether
the claimant suffers from a medically determinable impairment
or combination of impairments that is severe; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is of
a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of any
impairment listed in the SSA regulations as presumptively
disabling; (4) whether the claimant's RFC leaves him
unable to perform the ...