United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION AND ORDER
D. PETERSON, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Christine Polencheck, who is proceeding pro se, seeks
judicial review of a final decision denying her claim for
disability benefits and supplemental security income under
the Social Security Act. 41 U.S.C. § 405(g). Polencheck
contends that she has been disabled since June 2016 because
of numerous impairments, including fibromyalgia, back pain,
carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and anxiety. The
administrative law judge concluded that even though
Polencheck suffers from various physical and mental
impairments, she is not disabled because she retains the
capacity to perform a significant number of jobs in the
economy, including housekeeper, shirt presser, and cafeteria
attendant. For the reasons discussed below, I am upholding
the administrative law judge's decision.
filed for disability benefits and supplemental security
income in June 2016. After her application and request for
reconsideration were denied, she requested a hearing before
an administrative law judge (ALJ). AR 175. A hearing was
held in Madison, Wisconsin, before ALJ John Martin on June
29, 2017. AR 39-99. Polencheck represented herself at the
hearing, Polencheck testified that she could no longer work
full time as a hairdresser because of herniated discs,
degenerative bone disease, excessive swelling in her hands
and knees, arthritis in her hips and feet, neuromas on her
toes, nerve damage in her left hand, joint pain,
fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and
PTSD. AR 64, 72. She testified that she recently had carpal
tunnel surgery on her right wrist but that it was
unsuccessful, and that her left hand is too damaged to
undergo surgery. AR 54. She also testified that her weight
had been increasing significantly and that her doctors
thought it was from swelling in her legs, arms, back, and
stomach. AR 52. She stated that she takes gabapentin daily
for pain, elevates her legs when possible, and wears hand
braces to control the swelling in her hands. AR 72. She has
difficulty climbing up and down stairs, AR 76, and can walk
about half a mile before needing to stop. AR 78. She stated
that she had seen several therapists for her mental health
problems, but that she did not think that they had helped
her. AR 78. At the time of the hearing, she was seeing a
psychiatrist who had prescribed medications for depression
and anxiety. AR 79. A vocational expert also testified at the
hearing, responding to several hypotheticals posed by the
ALJ. AR 85-93.
issued a written decision finding that Polencheck was not
disabled from June 2016, to August 4, 2017, the date of the
decision. AR 21-34. The ALJ found that Polencheck was insured
through December 31, 2020, and that she had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of
June 1, 2016. AR 24. The ALJ next found that Polencheck's
fibromyalgia, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and
muscle disorders were severe impairments, AR 26, but that
none of the impairments met or medically equaled the severity
of a listed impairment. AR 27. The ALJ found that Polencheck
had the residual functional capacity to perform light work
with some additional limitations. AR 29.
concluded that although Polencheck's “medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to
cause” her alleged symptoms, her subjective complaints
about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her
symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical
evidence and other evidence in the record.” AR 30. He
noted that Polencheck's impairments were present at
“approximately the same level of severity prior to the
alleged onset date, ” but that she had managed to work
full time despite allegedly disabling impairments.
Id. He noted that the medical evidence did not
suggest that Polencheck's impairments had worsened around
the time of her alleged onset date, but instead, medical
records showed that she told a treating provider in April
2016 that she was cutting her work hours to 20-24 hours so
that she could qualify for disability benefits. Id.
medical records showed that her weight had been fairly
stable, her physical exams around the time of her alleged
onset date were unremarkable, and her x-rays showed only mild
arthritis in her hands and no fractures or dislocations in
her ankle, despite her complaints of problems in those areas.
Id. The ALJ also noted that although Polencheck
complained about fibromyalgia and lupus, there was no
examination for fibromyalgia in her medical records and the
tests for lupus were negative. Id. Polencheck stated
that she needed to elevate her legs and sometimes wore
orthopedic stockings, but her medical records did not discuss
swelling or deformities. Id. She received an updated
lumbar MRI in April 2017 that showed only mild progression of
degenerative changes at ¶ 4-5 and other “stable
degenerative changes” compared to her 2013 imaging.
Id. The ALJ also found that her medical records did
not suggest that her carpal tunnel syndrome was as severe as
she suggested. Id. at 31.
her mental health, the ALJ found that Polencheck's
limited treatment records did not suggest disabling symptoms.
Id. The ALJ noted that Polencheck went to the
emergency room for suicidal ideation in August 2015 and
August 2016, but that the hospital staff discharged her after
both visits without admitting her. Id. at 31.
the ALJ considered opinions from Polencheck's treating
medical providers, but gave them little weight because the
opinions did not identify specific work-related functional
limitations, were conclusory, or were based on
Polencheck's subjective reports. Id. at 32. In
contrast, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of
state-agency medical sources, who concluded that Polencheck
could perform a range of light work that involved short and
simple instructions, that accommodated her moderate
difficulties working with others, and that involved only
occasional public contact. Id. The ALJ noted that he
did not think that Polencheck was as limited in working with
the public as the state consultants suggested. Id.
the Appeals Council denied Polencheck's request for
review, she filed this appeal on her own behalf.
reviewing the ALJ's decision, my role is to determine
whether the decision denying benefits is supported by
“substantial evidence.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir.
2004). “Substantial evidence” means “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Moon v.
Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014) (citations
omitted). “The administrative law judge must identify
the relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Id. See also Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425
F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005) (“[T]he ALJ must . . .
explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and
clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.”).
filed a complaint and a brief in support of her appeal, but
she does not identify clearly any specific error in the
ALJ's decision or explain why she believes that the
ALJ's decision is unsupported by substantial evidence.
Most of Polencheck's brief focuses on her depression,
chronic pain, and physical limitations, without addressing
the ALJ's analysis of these impairments and her
subjective symptoms. Polencheck's only specific reference
to the ALJ's decision is her suggestion that the ALJ
misunderstood her motivation for telling her therapist that
she had reduced her hours so that she could qualify for
disability. Polencheck says that she wishes to explain to the
court that she made those statements because of her severe
and chronic pain and depression. She also says that she has
tried numerous medications and surgeries, that nothing has
provided relief for her pain and swelling and that, at this
point, she, her primary care doctor, and her psychiatrist all
agree that she can ...