United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
NACOLE F. SICKLER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
OPINION & ORDER
D. PETERSON District Judge
Nacole F. Sickler seeks judicial review of a final decision
of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of
Social Security, finding her not disabled under the Social
Security Act. The administrate law judge concluded that
Sickler suffered from pseudoseizures, bipolar disorder,
depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), and cannabis use disorder. But the ALJ concluded that
Sickler had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform
a significant number of jobs in the economy. Sickler contends
that the ALJ made three errors that require a remand: (1)
failure to account for Sickler's mental impairments in
her RFC; (2) failure to give proper weight to a treating
physician's opinion; and (3) failure to consider the side
effects of Sickler's medicine. The court will remand on
the basis that the ALJ's RFC finding did not account for
Sickler's moderate impairment in maintaining
district court reviews an ALJ's decision to
“determine whether [the decision] was supported by
substantial evidence or is the result of an error of
law.” Moody v. Berryhill, 245 F.Supp.3d 1028,
1031 (C.D. Ill. 2017) (quoting Rice v. Barnhart, 384
F.3d 363, 369 (7th Cir. 2004)). An ALJ need not address every
piece of evidence, but she must build a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and her conclusions.
Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015).
Mental impairments in RFC
relied on state agency psychological consultants'
opinions to determine Sickler's RFC. R. 28. Those consultants
opined that Sickler had a moderate impairment in maintaining
concentration as part of their RFC analyses. R. 92, 104, 121,
136. The ALJ concluded that Sickler's RFC allowed her to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but
the ALJ included the following nonexertional limitations:
 no work at unprotected heights or near hazards,  which
is routine, repetitive simple work,  not requiring any
public contacts or more than brief and superficial contacts
with coworkers and supervisors, and  which is low stress,
defined as no more than routine changes in the work process
or work setting.
R. 22-23. The ALJ included the same limitations in her
hypothetical given to the vocational expert. R. 63. The first
restriction apparently accounts for Sickler's
pseudoseizures. Presumably, the second restriction is
intended to account for her limitation in maintaining
concentration. But a restriction to routine, repetitive
simple work is not adequate to account for a moderate
limitation in concentration. O'Connor-Spinner v.
Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 620 (7th Cir. 2010); Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 678 (7th Cir. 2008).
ALJ's discussion at step three of the five-step
sequential analysis suggests that the ALJ thought the third
and fourth restrictions would account for all of
Sickler's mental impairments: the ALJ reasoned that the
impairments were triggered by social interactions or stress,
relying on Sickler's function report. R. 22 (citing R.
339-47). But as the Commissioner acknowledges, an ALJ's
finding at step three is not an RFC assessment. In her RFC
analysis, the ALJ rejected Sickler's report of her
symptoms and found her allegations not credible. The state
agency psychological consultants, whose opinions formed the
basis of the ALJ's RFC determination, did not state that
social interactions or stress triggered Sickler's
impairment in concentration. The bottom line is that the ALJ
has not adequately explained how the RFC accounts for
Sickler's moderate limitation in maintaining
concentration, and, thus the ALJ has not built a logical
bridge between the evidence and her conclusion.
other arguments warrant only brief discussion. Sickler
contends that the ALJ erred by giving no weight to a November
1, 2016 opinion of Nina Gilberg, Sickler's treating
physician, who opined that Sickler's bipolar disorder,
anxiety disorder, and PTSD severely impaired her ability to
work. Sickler argues that the ALJ failed to cite or discuss
Gilberg's historical treatment notes going back 19 years
from the date of her opinion. But what matters is whether
Sickler continuously had symptoms that were severe enough to
qualify her as disabled for at least one year. Sickler does
not explain how the past treatment notes establish that fact.
Sickler also argues that the ALJ failed to reconcile
conflicting medical opinions, particularly those of Gilberg,
a state agency consultant, and a state consultative examiner,
but she does not explain how such reconciliation would have
shown that she was disabled.
also contends that the ALJ failed to consider the side
effects of her medications. She testified before the ALJ that
she took Omeprazole (for a thyroid condition) and Latuda (for
bi-polar disorder) and that her medications caused some side
effects. R. 55-56. Sickler does not point to any medical
evidence in the record documenting her side effects. Sickler
has attached to her appellate brief an incomplete printout
from www.latuda.com, Dkt. 11-7, but that was not part of the
record before the ALJ. Sickler made only a passing reference
to her side effects, and on appeal she has not shown that the
record supported her testimony or explained why the ALJ had
to accept her testimony. The fact that the ALJ did not
discuss the side effects of her medications does not warrant
remand, although the ALJ may choose to explore this issue if
Sickler raises it again.
decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner
of Social Security, denying plaintiff Nacole F. Sickler
applications for disability ...