United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER
William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge United States District
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 claims that the Administrative Law
Judge's (“ALJ”) erred in failing to explain
the basis for his finding that she retained limited use of
her right arm and could lift up to five pounds. Upon review
of the record, I find that the ALJ did in fact explain how he
arrived at Plaintiff's residual functional capacity and
substantial evidence supports his finding concerning
Plaintiff's use of her right arm. The decision of the
Commissioner is therefore affirmed.
October 23, 2014, Plaintiff Michelle Schiltz, then age 44,
filed an application for DIB and SSI with an alleged onset
date of January 25, 2013, due to back problems,
deterioration, pinched nerves, and fibromyalgia. R. 68, 86.
The onset date was later changed to October 24, 2013, to
avoid any overlap with the denial of a previous application.
R. 19. In any event, the SSA denied the applications
initially on April 23, 2015, and upon reconsideration on
August 25, 2015. R. 151-58, 161-70. After her application and
request for reconsideration were denied, Plaintiff requested
an administrative hearing. ALJ Timothy Malloy held a hearing
on June 7, 2016. R. 39. Plaintiff, who was represented by
counsel, and David Oswald, a vocational expert, both
testified. R. 40.
hearing, Plaintiff testified that she last worked on 2013.
Her last several jobs had been as a cook in a restaurant. She
had also worked as a cashier in retail stores and in
factories through temporary employment agencies. R. 44-46. At
the time of the hearing, Plaintiff testified she had been
living in an apartment with her teen-age daughter and her
oldest daughter's four children for whom she had been
appointed guardian, though she had recently moved to a hotel
by herself due to overcrowding. She was enrolled in Wisconsin
Works (W-2), a temporary assistance program for low income
parents, from which she received $608 per month, which was
supplemented by sporadic child support payments from her
ex-husband. Although the W-2 program was intended to last for
only two years, Plaintiff had been on it for seven-and-a-half
years due to repeated extensions. She testified that at
first, she had been looking for a job, but discontinued her
search because of her health. R.47-49. She also acknowledged
that her criminal record made it hard to get jobs, and that
her employment history even before her alleged onset date was
sparse. R. 52-53, 56.
her physical condition, Plaintiff testified that she had
problems with her right shoulder, her lower back and her neck
sometimes. R. 56. She had undergone three separate surgeries,
a cervical discectomy depression and fusion at ¶ 6-7 in
March of 2014, and two rotator cuff repairs on the shoulder
of her right (non-dominant) arm, also in 2014. R. 49-50. With
respect to her cervical problem, Plaintiff testified that she
had “good days and bad days with the pain.” R.
51. She did not believe her surgeries had significantly
improved her pain in her shoulder and neck. Plaintiff also
complained of pain in other regions of her body which she
attributed to lumbar disc problems and fibromyalgia. R.
58-59. Finally, Plaintiff testified her family physician
prescribed unspecified medication for her depression, but she
had not seen a psychiatrist or psychologist. R. 55-56.
June 21, 2016 decision, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
not disabled. R. 16-33. Following the five-step sequential
process prescribed by the Social Security Administration
(SSA), the ALJ concluded at step one that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 23,
2014. R. 21. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease, degenerative joint disease, COPD, obesity, anxiety,
and depression. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled on of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ then
determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional
to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(b) except she can never climb ladders, ropes and
scaffolds; she must avoid moderate exposure to the use of
moving machinery and unprotected heights; she cannot reach
overhead with the right upper extremity; she is limited to
lifting and carrying five pounds with her right upper
extremity; she must avoid moderate exposure to irritants such
as fumes, odors, dusts, and gases; she is limited to
unskilled work performing simple, routine and repetitive
tasks; she will be off-task ten percent of the workday in
addition to regular breaks; she is limited to occasional
decision making and changes in her work setting; and she can
only perform work that allows for a flexible pace.
on the testimony offered by the vocational expert at the
hearing, the ALJ determined at step four that considering her
age, education, and work experience, Plaintiff would not be
able to return to her past work. R. 62-63. The ALJ concluded
at step five, however, again based on the testimony of the
vocational expert, that there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform, such as counter attendant, marker/labeler, and
shipper weigher. R. 32-33. Based on these findings, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner when the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
October 5, 2016. R. 1.
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).
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 ...