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Verhasselt v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

June 4, 2018

MARILYN LOUISE VERHASSELT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. DUFFIN U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Background

         Marilyn Louise Verhasselt alleges she has been disabled since August 29, 2010. (Tr. 16.) She was last insured on December 31, 2013. (Tr. 16.) Following a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), the ALJ on May 19, 2016, concluded that Verhasselt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date and that she suffers from the following severe impairment: “osteoarthritis of the bilateral hands, status post bilateral carpometacarpal (CMC) joint arthroplasty.” (Tr. 18.) The ALJ concluded that Verhasselt’s anxiety was not a severe impairment. (Tr. 19.)

         The ALJ found that Verhasselt’s impairments did not meet or medically equal a listing under in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 19.) The ALJ concluded that, between August 29, 2010 and August 29, 2015, Verhasselt had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work “except she is limited to occasional handling and fingering with her bilateral upper extremities.” (Tr. 20.) A vocational expert testified that, with these limitations, Verhasselt would be capable of performing various jobs, including hostess, rental clerk, counter clerk, or machine tender. (Tr. 23.)

         However, the ALJ concluded that Verhasselt became disabled on August 29, 2015, her 55th birthday, when she transitioned from the “individual closely approaching advanced age” to the “advanced age” category under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. (Tr. 16-17, 22); see also Medical-Vocational Rule 202.04.

         Although she was previously represented by counsel, Verhasselt is now representing herself. In her filings with the court she expresses frustration at the ALJ’s decision and argues that it is unfair that she is not able to recover under SSDI when she has been found disabled, worked for years, and was forced to quit her job because of her impairments, which started years before the date on which the ALJ found that she became disabled. (ECF Nos. 16, 20.) She also argues, without providing specifics, that the ALJ “overlooked my medical reports and took things I said out of context.” (ECF No. 16 at 1.) She argues she was limited to sedentary work before her date last insured and therefore is disabled. (ECF No. 16 at 2.)

         Standard of Review

         The court’s role in reviewing an ALJ’s decision is limited. It does not look at the evidence anew and make an independent determination as to whether or not the claimant is disabled. Rather, the court must affirm the ALJ’s decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120 (7th Cir. 2014). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. at 1120-21 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Thus, it is possible that opposing conclusions both can be supported by substantial evidence. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699 (7th Cir. 2004).

         It is not the Court’s role to reweigh evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Moore, 743 F.3d at 1121. Rather, the court must determine whether the ALJ complied with his obligation to build an “accurate and logical bridge” between the evidence and his conclusion that is sufficient to enable a court to review the administrative findings. Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2014); Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). If the ALJ committed a material error of law the court cannot affirm the ALJ’s decision regardless of whether it is supported by substantial evidence. Beardsley, 758 F.3d at 837; Farrell v. Astrue, 692 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Although Verhasselt is representing herself, she must direct the court to specific points she believes the ALJ got wrong. “A generalized assertion of error is not sufficient to challenge an adverse ruling, and undeveloped or unsupported contentions are waived.” Cadenhead v. Astrue, 410 Fed. Appx. 982, 984 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).

         Analysis

         Verhasselt’s criticisms of the ALJ’s decision are generally insufficiently specific and outside the scope of this court’s review. Therefore, the court focuses on one specific error Verhasselt alleges-that she was actually limited to sedentary work. If Verhasselt was limited to sedentary work when she was “closely approaching advanced age,” i.e., 50 to 54 years old, she would be disabled based upon her education and previous work experience. See Medical-Vocational Rule 201.12; see also SSR 96-09p.

         There is no dispute that Verhasselt was unlimited in her ability to sit, stand, or walk. Therefore, the dispute over whether Verhasselt was capable of light work comes down to whether Verhasselt was capable of the lifting demands of light work. “Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). “Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a).

         In support of his conclusion that Verhasselt was capable of the lifting demands of light work, the ALJ pointed to a December 2009 letter (or perhaps more accurately described as a file memorandum) of Dr. David A. Toivonen (Tr. 434), the surgeon who performed the ...


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