United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
SASHA T. GULLEY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. DUFFIN U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Facts and Procedural History
Gulley alleges she became disabled on January 16, 2012, when
she slipped and fell on ice, exacerbating her prior back
problems. She seeks disability insurance and supplemental
security income benefits due to low back and neck pain, as
well as fibromyalgia.
found Gulley suffers from degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar and cervical spine, fibromyalgia, and obesity. (Tr.
17.) She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged onset date. (Tr. 17.) Her impairments do
not meet or medically equal a listing. (Tr. 18-19.) Rather,
she had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work with additional limitations, including only occasional
lifting, pushing, or pulling of up to ten pounds, sitting for
up to six hours of an eight-hour workday, standing or walking
for up to two hours of a workday. (Tr. 19.)
limitations precluded her past relevant work but, relying on
the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded
Gulley could work as a “Document Preparer Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (DOT) Code#: 249.587-018 / Sedentary
/Unskilled/ SVP 2 / 98, 000 jobs nationally; Assembler- DOT
Code#: 713.687-018 / Sedentary /Unskilled/ SVP 2 / 7, 300
jobs nationally; and Check Weigher - DOT Code#: 737.687-026 /
Sedentary/ Unskilled/ SVP 2 I 13, 000 jobs nationally.”
Standard of Review
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 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).
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 his 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).
challenges the ALJ's assessment of the opinions of Jim
Donaldson, an athletic trainer who assessed Gulley as part of
her worker's compensation claim, and Dr. Arvind Ahuja, a
neurologist who treated Gulley.
discussed certain of Dr. Ahuja's opinions (Tr. 331, 333,
343, 349, 357-58) and discounted each because “it is
not expressed in precise functional terms supported with
citation to medical evidence, and as such, its probative
value is limited. Further, this opinion is conclusory, poorly
explained, and consists only of circled items on a
checklist.” (Tr. 25.) The ALJ also noted that these
opinions intrude on issues reserved to the Commissioner. (Tr.
25.) With respect to a November 6, 2012 opinion (Tr. 357-58),
the ALJ noted, “generally speaking, some physical
examinations of record revealed such little symptomatology,
that outright inability to perform most postural activities
is not warranted.” (Tr. 25.)
Gulley challenges the ALJ's assessment on various fronts,
the court finds it sufficient to note the ALJ's selective
reliance on the record. The ALJ failed to discuss any of Dr.
Ahuja's opinions in which he stated Gulley was limited to
working only four hours per day. (Tr. 348, Nov. 1, 2012; Tr.
371, March 21, 2013; Tr. 368, Oct. 10, 2013; Tr. 424, Feb.
13, 2014; Tr. 423, May 23, 2014.) Beginning in March of 2013,
Dr. Ahuja characterized this limitation as permanent.
opinion was consistent with Donaldson's opinion, which
the ALJ discounted in large part because it was “not
supported by the bulk of the medical record.” (Tr. 24.)
Like Dr. Ahuja, Donaldson opined that Gulley could work only
three to four hours a day. (Tr. 360.) However, Dr.
Ahuja's un-referenced opinions were consistent with
Donaldson's opinions. And, specifically with respect to
sitting, Dr. Ahuja opined Gulley was limited to
“occasional” sitting. (Tr. 348, 423.) Thus, the