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Seigfreid v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 27, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

         This is an action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Brian K. Seigfreid's 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 alleges that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred in his assessment of the evidence and that his decision is not supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.


         On August 30, 2012, Plaintiff, then age 45, filed an application for DIB and SSI with an alleged onset date of January 10, 2010, due to depression, headaches, right arm issues, and fibromyalgia. R. 279-81, 329. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the applications initially on January 7, 2013, and upon reconsideration on August 12, 2013. R. 152, 168. After his application and request for reconsideration were denied, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. ALJ Barry Robinson held a hearing on February 9, 2015. Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert both testified. R. 44-77.

         At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he had completed the ninth grade before dropping out of school due to the break-up of his family and related issues. R. 49. As an adult, he testified that he had worked in construction and related fields. He had last worked for Select Plastering, where he plastered the inside and outside of buildings for over five years. R. 49-50. Before that, he restored buildings that had been damaged by fire or water. R. 51.

         When asked what physical conditions limited his ability to work, Plaintiff responded his back, neck, legs, buttocks, right arm, and hands. R. 52. He had previously injured his right wrist while working for Select Plastering. R. 404. He had radial tunnel and carpal tunnel surgery performed on that wrist on January 10, 2013. R. 1092-95. At the hearing, he testified that his arm was still sore and that he could only use it for about two to three hours a day before he could not move or bend it anymore. R. 53. He also testified he had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which caused him pain in his back, neck, and legs, and made sitting difficult. Id. He elaborated that even alternating between sitting and standing was too difficult for him to maintain over an eight-hour work day. R. 57. He had received steroid injections for the back pain but was not experiencing relief from the pain. R. 56. He also explained that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. R. 54-55. In addition to his diagnoses, Plaintiff testified that he had concentration problems for the past five or so years. R. 62.

         Plaintiff testified that he lived in a two-story, four-bedroom home. R. 55. He explained that he did not use three of the bedrooms and that generally he cared for the house, but occasionally his mother would provide assistance. R. 55-56. In his free time, he testified he would watch TV, “monkey around out in the garage, ” sell his fishing gear online, and get together with friends and family about once a month. R. 56, 58-59. He also explained that he hadn't fished in six months because he couldn't alternate between standing and sitting for that long of a period. R. 58. And when he did fish, he had to cast with his left-arm because it was too painful to use his right hand, even though he is right-hand dominant. R. 59.

         Medical documentation in the administrative record, beginning in June 2009, revealed that Plaintiff injured his right wrist and elbow while setting up scaffolding at work. R. 404. Dr. Jon Cherney treated him for his injury and cleared him to return to work at a medium-exertion level. On April 27, 2010, Dr. Cherney declared that Plaintiff's elbow was 4% permanently partially disabled and that he should have a permanent work restriction of medium-exertion level work. R. 401, 413. In August 2011, Dr. Jagdeep Sodhi began treating Plaintiff for right wrist and forearm pain. R. 525-27. By July 2012, Dr. Sodhi had diagnosed Plaintiff with right radial tunnel syndrome, right lateral epicondylitis, and chronic right carpal tunnel syndrome. R. 516. After conservative treatment failed to provide relief, Dr. Sodhi performed radial tunnel and carpal tunnel release surgery in January 2013. R. 1092-95. Plaintiff completed physical therapy and by June 2013, he reported to Dr. Sodhi that his forearm and elbow pain had been completely resolved. R. 827.

         While receiving physical therapy for his elbow and forearm, Plaintiff began complaining of pain in his right shoulder. R. 763, 765-66. Dr. Sodhi ordered physical therapy for his shoulder as well. Upon completion of physical therapy, Plaintiff had reported his shoulder had improved 80% and he had returned to household chores, like lifting laundry baskets, and throwing a ball with his kids. R. 830, 880-81. His medical records also revealed that in April 2011, Dr. Marlon Hermitanio diagnosed Plaintiff's diffuse pain to be chronic pain syndrome from fibromyalgia for which his headaches are a pain generator. R. 424-27.

         In a decision dated June 11, 2015, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. R. 36. Following the SSA's five-step process, the ALJ concluded at step one that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 13, 2015, and had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity for a continuous 12-month period since May 1, 2010. R. 25-26. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, right arm carpal tunnel syndrome, right shoulder degenerative joint disease, and major depressive disorder all constituted severe impairments. R. 26. The ALJ found that the complete medical record indicated that Plaintiff also suffered from mild arthritis of the bilateral hips, migraines, diverticulitis, and memory problems, but concluded that these impairments were nonsevere in that they were well-managed and caused no more than minimal physical or mental limitations. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal any of the listed impairments under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.

         The ALJ then determined Plaintiff had the following residual functional capacity (RFC):

[Plaintiff has the ability to] perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant is limited to frequent overhead reaching with his right upper extremity and frequent handling and fingering with his right hand. The claimant can perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a work environment that involves simple, work-related decisions with few, if any, work place changes. The claimant requires a job where there is only occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public and where interaction with the public is not a primary component of the job.

R. 29. Based on the testimony offered by the vocational expert at the hearing, the ALJ determined at step four that considering his age, education, and work experience, Plaintiff would not be able to return to his past work. R. 34. The ALJ concluded at step five, 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 garment folder, photocopy machine operator, and ironer. R. 35. 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 24, 2016. R. 1.


         The 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).

         The ALJ 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. ...

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