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Kurtti v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 27, 2019

MEGAN JO KURTTI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          NANCY JOSEPH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Megan Jo Kurtti seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Kurtti filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income alleging disability beginning on August 15, 2013 due to depression, fibromyalgia, migraines (TMJ), learning disability, and allergies. (Tr. 268.) The claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on February 1, 2017. (Tr. 40-79.) Kurtti testified at the hearing, as did Thomas Heiman, a vocational expert (“VE”), and Kurtti's mother, Brenda Kurtti. (Tr. 40.)

         In a written decision issued April 11, 2017, the ALJ found that Kurtti had the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning, depression, hearing loss, fibromyalgia, mild systemic lupus erythematosus, and obesity. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ found that Kurtti did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (the “listings”). (Tr. 17-21.) The ALJ found Kurtti had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with the following limitations:

[N]o climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; never work at unprotected heights or around dangerous moving machinery; able to her and understand simple, oral instructions, but she should work in an environment with no more than moderate noise intensity; understand, remember, and perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks; a low stress job, defined as one that requires only occasional work-related decisions and involves only occasional changes in the work setting; should not be required to perform at a production rate pace (such as assembly line work); occasionally able to interact with supervisors and co-workers, but should never be required to perform tandem tasks that require coordination with co-workers; and limited to brief and superficial interaction with the public.

(Tr. 22.) The ALJ found Kurtti was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. However, given her age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Kurtti could perform. (Tr. 30-32.) As such, the ALJ found Kurtti was not disabled from August 15, 2013 through the date of the decision (April 14, 2017). (Tr. 32.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-5.)

         DISCUSSION

         1. Applicable Legal Standards

         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 not conclusive evidence; it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Schaaf v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869, 874 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation and citation omitted). 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 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. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 697 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 93-95 (1943); Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 307 (7th Cir. 2010)).

         2. Application to this Case

         Kurtti alleges the ALJ erred in her determination of Kurtti's RFC with regard to both her mental health impairments and her physical impairments. She further argues the ALJ erred in her consideration of Kurtti's subjective complaints. I will address each argument in turn. 2.1 RFC—Physical Impairments Regarding her physical impairments, Kurtti argues the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinion of state agency reviewing physician Dr. Mina Khorshidi, who opined that Kurtti should avoid all exposure to pulmonary irritants due to her allergies. RFC is the most the claimant can do in a work setting “despite her limitations.” Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000-01; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1); SSR 96-8p. The Administration must consider all of the claimant's known, medically determinable impairments when assessing RFC. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2), (e). An ALJ must consider all medical opinions in the record, but the method of evaluation varies depending on the source. The opinion of a state agency reviewing physician, unlike that of a treating source, is not entitled to any special weight.

         The ALJ considered Dr. Khorshidi's opinion regarding exposure to pulmonary irritants, but accorded that portion of her opinion little weight. (Tr. 27.) The ALJ noted that Dr. Khorshidi's limitation was based on Kurtti's chronic allergic rhinitis/sinusitis. (Id.) The ALJ found, however, that Kurtti's allergies did not cause any significant functional limitations. Specifically, the ALJ noted that while Kurtti treated at the Allergy and Immunology Clinic and in December 2013 stated that she thought her allergy symptoms had worsened, she had not had any allergy shots for approximately one year. (Tr. 16-17.) The ALJ further found that a spirometry study conducted in December 2013 showed only mild obstruction and subsequent treatment records showed no significant complaints of or treatment for allergies. (Tr. 17.) In January 2015, Kurtti told her primary care provider that despite some complaints of increased fatigue, her health had improved tremendously in the past year. (Id.) ...


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