United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER
E. JONES United States Magistrate Judge.
Stojanovic, Jr., alleges that he became disabled on February
6, 2011, as a result of a number of physical and mental
impairments. After the Social Security Administration (SSA)
denied his applications for disability benefits, Mr.
Stojanovic requested and received a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ determined that Mr.
Stojanovic was capable of working notwithstanding his
impairments. Mr. Stojanovic now seeks judicial review of that
Stojanovic argues that the ALJ erred in relying on a
vocational expert's testimony at step five and in
refusing to allow his mother to testify at the administrative
hearing. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ did not
commit an error of law in reaching his decision and that the
decision is otherwise supported by substantial evidence. For
the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the ALJ failed
to develop a full and fair record when he excluded the
testimony of Mr. Stojanovic's mother. The Court therefore
will reverse the ALJ's decision and remand for further
Stojanovic, Jr., was born on November 28, 1974. Transcript
321, ECF Nos. 12-2-12-11. He took special education classes
throughout his schooling and graduated from high school in
1993. Tr. 373-74. After completing a job-training program,
Mr. Stojanovic secured a position at Bally Total Fitness
doing cleaning. He worked full time for fifteen years before
being laid off when the company hired a new cleaning crew. In
2011 and 2012, Mr. Stojanovic worked part time at TJ Maxx
doing cleaning and stocking, but he stopped working following
surgery on his right foot. Tr. 58-62. Mr. Stojanovic is
single, and he has never lived on his own. Tr. 64, 373-74. As
of January 2015, Mr. Stojanovic was living at his
mother's house in St. Francis, Wisconsin, with his mother
and brother. Tr. 29, 64-65. He was 5΄9΄΄ tall
and weighed 352 pounds. Tr. 60.
Stojanovic suffers from depression, anxiety, poor vision, and
issues with his right foot. Tr. 281. In July 2012, he filed
applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, alleging that his disability
began on May 1, 2006. Tr. 239-51. After the Social Security
Administration denied his applications initially, Tr. 103-28,
and upon reconsideration, Tr. 129-58, Mr. Stojanovic
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, Tr.
41-48, 185-213, 223, 229-38.
administrative hearing was held on January 27, 2015, before
ALJ Patrick J. Toal. See Tr. 49-102. Mr. Stojanovic
was represented by counsel at the hearing. See Tr.
49, 163-64. The ALJ heard testimony from Mr. Stojanovic; Ajit
Haldipur Janardhan, M.D., Ph.D., an impartial medical expert;
and Timothy Tansey, Ph.D., C.R.C., C.V.E., an impartial
vocational expert. See Tr. 57-98; see also
Tr. 224-28, 214-15. The ALJ, however, did not permit
testimony from Mr. Stojanovic's mother, Luise Stojanovic.
See Tr. 79-81, 98-101. At the hearing, Mr.
Stojanovic amended his alleged onset date to February 6,
2011. Tr. 56-57.
followed the five-step sequential evaluation process and on
February 3, 2015, he issued a decision unfavorable to Mr.
Stojanovic. Tr. 9-27. The ALJ determined that (1) Mr.
Stojanovic did not engage in substantial gainful activity
since his amended alleged onset date; (2) Mr. Stojanovic
suffered from five “severe” impairments: obesity,
right foot deformities, right knee changes, vision
abnormalities, and elements of an anxiety disorder and a
learning disorder; (3) Mr. Stojanovic did not suffer from an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of a presumptively disabling
impairment; Mr. Stojanovic had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform unskilled sedentary work with
certain physical and mental restrictions; (4) Mr. Stojanovic
could not perform his past relevant work as a locker-room
attendant; and (5) Mr. Stojanovic remained capable of
performing the requirements of various unskilled, sedentary
occupations. See Tr. 12-21. Based on those findings,
the ALJ concluded that Mr. Stojanovic was not disabled.
the Appeals Council denied Mr. Stojanovic's request for
review, Tr. 1-6, 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).
Stojanovic filed this action on September 27, 2016, 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 U.S. Magistrate Judge, ECF Nos.
4, 8 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b)).
It is now fully briefed and ready for disposition.
See Plaintiff's Brief, ECF No. 13;
Defendant's Memorandum in Support of the
Commissioner's Decision; ECF No. 16; Plaintiff's
Reply Brief, ECF No. 17; and Plaintiff's Supplemental
Brief, ECF No. 19.
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.
205(g) of the Act limits the scope of judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision. See §
405(g). As such, the Commissioner's findings of fact
shall be conclusive if they are supported by
“substantial evidence.” See §
405(g). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118,
1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)) (other citations
omitted). 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) (citing Arkansas v. Oklahoma,
503 U.S. 91, 113 (1992)).
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) (citing Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003)). 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) (citing
Blakes v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 565, 569 (7th Cir.
2003); Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th
Cir. 2001)). The ALJ's decision must be reversed
“[i]f the evidence does not support the
conclusion.” Beardsley, 758 F.3d at 837
(citing Blakes, 331 F.3d at 569). Likewise,
reviewing courts must remand “[a] decision that lacks
adequate discussion of the issues.” Moore, 743
F.3d at 1121 (citations omitted).
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 his decision “fails to
comply with the Commissioner's regulations and
rulings.” Brown v. Barnhart, 298 F.Supp.2d
773, 779 (E.D. Wis. 2004) (citing Prince v.
Sullivan, 933 F.2d 598, 602 (7th Cir. 1991)). Reversal
is not required, however, if the error is ...