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Fitzgerald v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 13, 2019

THOMAS J. FITZGERALD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. DUFFIN U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Thomas J. Fitzgerald alleges he has been disabled since December 15, 2011, due to depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, and polysubstance abuse/dependence. (Tr. 91, 106.) In August 2013 he applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Tr. 204-07, 211-16.) After his applications were denied initially (Tr. 91-122) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 123-48), a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on October 26, 2016 (Tr. 30-90). On February 17, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding Fitzgerald was not disabled. (Tr. 13-23.) The Appeals Council denied Fitzgerald's request for review on January 18, 2018. (Tr. 1-3.) This action followed. All parties have consented to the full jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (ECF Nos. 4, 7), and the matter is now ready for resolution.

         ALJ'S DECISION

         In determining whether a person is disabled an ALJ applies a five-step sequential evaluation process. At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found that Fitzgerald “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 15, 2011, the alleged disability onset date.” (Tr. 15.)

         The analysis then proceeds to the second step, which is a consideration of whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is “severe.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). “In order for an impairment to be considered severe at this step of the process, the impairment must significantly limit an individual's ability to perform basic work activities.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). The ALJ concluded that Fitzgerald has the following severe impairments: “anxiety disorder, affective disorder, and substance addiction disorder.” (Tr. 15.)

         At step three, the ALJ is to determine whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 4, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.1526, 416.920(d) and 416.926) (called “The Listings.”) If the impairment or impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of a listing and also meets the twelve- month duration requirement, 20 C.F.R. § 416.909, the claimant is disabled. If the claimant's impairment or impairments is not of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria set forth in a listing, the analysis proceeds to the next step. The ALJ found that Fitzgerald “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments[.]” (Tr. 15.)

         In between steps three and four the ALJ must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is the claimant's ability to perform both physical and mental work-related activities on a regular and continuing basis despite her impairments. Moore, 743 F.3d at 1121. In making the RFC finding, the ALJ must consider all of the claimant's impairments, including impairments that are not severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529; 416.929; SSR 96-4p. In other words, the RFC determination is a “function by function” assessment of the claimant's maximum work capability. Elder v. Asture, 529 F.3d 408, 412 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ concluded that Fitzgerald has the RFC

to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he is limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; he is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; the claimant is limited to no contact with the public and occasional contact with supervisors and coworkers.

(Tr. 17.)

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ at step four must determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1526, 416.965. Fitzgerald's past relevant work was as a construction worker, sales attendant, and stock clerk. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ concluded he is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 20.)

         The last step of the sequential evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work, considering his RFC, age, education, and work experience. At this step the ALJ concluded that, considering Fitzgerald's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Fitzgerald can perform. (Tr. 21.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert (VE) who testified that a hypothetical individual of Fitzgerald's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the requirements of a marker, garment sorter, and classifier. (Tr. 21-22.) After finding that Fitzgerald could perform work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that he is not disabled. (Tr. 22-23.)

         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 the claimant is disabled. Rather, the court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Moore, 743 F.3d at 1120. 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 ...


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