United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
KATHY S. LAABS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
an action for judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Kathy S.
Laabs' applications 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 ALJ erred in assessing her
credibility, weighing the medical opinions, and determining
her RFC. For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.
September 26, 2012, Plaintiff, then age 53, filed an
application for DIB and SSI with an alleged onset date of
June 8, 2012, due to cervical degenerative disc disease,
neuropathy, and sleep apnea. R. 196, 199, 237. The Social
Security Administration (SSA) denied the applications
initially on January 9, 2013, and upon reconsideration on
July 16, 2013. R. 134, 143. After her application and request
for reconsideration were denied, Plaintiff requested an
administrative hearing. ALJ John Kraybill held a hearing on
January 29, 2015. Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel,
a medical expert, and a vocational expert (VE) testified. R.
time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 4'10" and weighed
181 pounds. R. 68. She lived by herself in Oshkosh,
Wisconsin, and received medical care through the local
Veterans Administration Medical Center. R. 66, 68. Plaintiff
testified that the physical problems that prevented her from
working included numbness in three-quarters of her face, both
arms, and her feet. She described the numbness in her feet as
constantly walking barefoot on shards of glass. R. 69. She
said that the numbness extended from her shoulders down to
her fingertips, as well as from both knees down her legs. R.
73. She also said that she had also developed issues with the
control and touch of her hands, specifically that she was
struggling with dexterity, including holding a pencil and
sewing. R. 73. She testified that the pain would prevent her
from even writing a letter and that only laying down gave her
relief. R. 74. The only medication she was taking at the time
was Meloxicam from which she experienced no side effects,
though she had tried other medications in the past. R. 67.
testified that she had previously held jobs as a
telemarketer, personal assistant, general laborer, escrow
officer, and bus driver. R. 238. She said she had most
recently worked as a bus driver, but that she no longer does
because of the numbness she experiences in her face, both
arms, and feet. R. 67-68. She also testified that she lived
in a single family home, which had stairs that she takes her
time to climb. R. 69. Plaintiff testified that she does her
own cooking, cleaning, and laundry, but that these chores are
spread out so she can pace herself. R. 78. She said she did
no yard work and tried to avoid driving because of the
numbness in her feet. R. 69.
Gilberto Munoz, a medical expert, also testified. Dr. Munoz
testified that he had reviewed Plaintiff's entire file
and concluded that she had chronic neck pain secondary to
multiple cervical spine ablation. The MRI showed no nerve
root compression. Dr. Munoz also testified that Plaintiff had
severe obstructive sleep apnea for which she required a CPAP
machine. Dr. Munoz thought Plaintiff's impairment did not
meet or medically equal a listed impairment, but that it did
restrict her to the full range of sedentary work. R. 79-80.
decision dated March 10, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff was
not disabled. R. 20-26. Following the Agency's five-step
sequential evaluation process, the ALJ concluded at step one
that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2016, and had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 8, 2012, the alleged onset date. R. 22.
At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's neck pain was
a severe impairment. R. 22. He determined Plaintiff's
obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, and reported history of
affective disorder were nonsevere because there was no
evidence that Plaintiff experienced any symptoms related to
any of these disorders. R. 22. At step three, the ALJ found
Plaintiff's neck impairment did not meet or medically
equal any listed impairments under 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1.
ultimately determined Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform the full range of sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a).
R. 23. With this RFC, the ALJ found at step four that
Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as
a telemarketer and an escrow officer. R. 25. Based on these
findings, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. Because the ALJ made
this determination at step four, he did not continue onto
step five. The ALJ's decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on March 10, 2015. R. 1.
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 his conclusions. Clifford v. Apfel, 227
F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).
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. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 697 (7th Cir.
2012) (citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80,
93-95 (1943); Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 307
(7th Cir. 2010)).
asserts four arguments on appeal. First, she argues that the
ALJ erred in assessing the weight given to the various
medical source opinions. Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ
erred in assessing the credibility of her statements about
the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her
symptoms. Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ's RFC
determination is not supported by substantial evidence and is
contrary to ...