United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
WILLIAM J. KENNEDY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.
an action for judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff William J.
Kennedy's application for disability insurance benefits
(DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under Titles II
and XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Kennedy challenges the decision by the Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) denying him benefits, arguing that the ALJ failed
to follow Social Security Administration (SSA) rulings and
regulations. For the reasons stated in this opinion, the
Commissioner's decision will be reversed and remanded.
has filed a number of applications for an award of DIB. A
hearing on Kennedy's previous application, alleging
disability beginning October 7, 2008, was held before ALJ
Roger E. Winkelman on September 12, 2013. On October 11,
2013, ALJ Winkelman issued a decision finding Kennedy was not
disabled. R. 139-49. Kennedy filed the most recent
application for DIB on April 21, 2014, and an application for
SSI on August 24, 2015. Both applications alleged disability
beginning October 7, 2008. After the applications were denied
initially and on reconsideration, Kennedy requested an
administrative hearing. ALJ Edward P. Studzinski held a
hearing on August 24, 2016. R. 105-35. Kennedy, who was
represented by a non-attorney representative, and a
vocational expert (VE) testified. Prior to the hearing,
Kennedy, through the non-attorney representative, amended the
alleged onset date to October 12, 2013, the day after the
date of the prior unfavorable decision. R. 33.
time of the second hearing, Kennedy was 51 years old and
lived with his sister and her husband in a house. R. 119.
Kennedy testified that he cannot work because he is in pain
and does not want to leave the house. R. 117. Kennedy had a
work-related injury in August 2008 after he lost his balance
while carrying a heavy object. R. 637. He underwent spinal
intervention, specifically a C4-C7 anterior cervical
decompression arthrodesis. R. 530. Kennedy reported that he
had pain in his neck, that he described as a spasm and a
choking sensation, ever since. R. 115. As a result of the
pain, Kennedy lays down two to three times a day for
approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes each day. R. 116.
Kennedy testified that his pain is constant. R. 113. He also
reported that he has sporadic migraines. He indicated that he
was not sure what causes the headaches but sunlight makes
them worse. Kennedy testified that he stays in bed when he
has a migraine. R. 114.
his mental impairments, Kennedy testified that he was
diagnosed with depression and anxiety. R. 111. He reported
having suicidal thoughts in 2013. R. 112. Kennedy explained
that he does not like to be around people, does not want to
get out of bed two or three times a week, and usually sits by
himself. R. 112.
written decision dated October 31, 2016, the ALJ concluded
Kennedy was not disabled. R. 31-47. Following the
agency's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
concluded at step one that Kennedy met the insured status
requirements since December 31, 2013, and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since October 12, 2013, the
amended alleged onset date. R. 33. At step two, the ALJ found
Kennedy had the following severe impairments: obesity;
disorders of the back, neck, and shoulder with a history of
cervical spine decompression and fusion; pace maker implant;
migraine headaches; and depression. Id. At step
three, the ALJ determined Kennedy's impairments or
combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal
any listed impairments under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. R. 34.
reviewing the record, the ALJ concluded Kennedy has the
residual functional capacity
(RFC) to lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and
10 pounds frequently, and has no limitations in the total
amount of time he is able to sit, stand or walk throughout an
8 hour workday. The claimant needs to alternate his position
between sitting, standing, and walking for no more than five
minutes out of every hour. While doing so, he would not need
to be off task. The claimant can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, and he can occasionally stoop, kneel, balance, crouch
and crawl, but he can never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds. The claimant is unable to perform repetitive or
extreme (greater than 75% of normal range of motion) neck
flexion, rotation, or extension. He is not limited in his
ability to perform such movements from 0-75% of normal ranges
of motion. He can never reach overhead. He is not capable of
working where he would be exposed to excessive noise or
bright, flashing lights exceeding what is generally
encountered in an office-type work environment. The claimant
is limited to working in non-hazardous environments, i.e., no
driving at work, operating moving machinery, working at
unprotected heights or around exposed flames and unguarded
large bodies of water, and he should avoid concentrated
exposure to unguarded hazardous machinery. The claimant is
further limited to simple, routine tasks, work involving no
more than simple decision-making, no more than occasional and
minor changes in the work setting, and work requiring the
exercise of only simple judgment. He is further precluded
from work involving direct public service, in person or over
the phone, although the claimant can tolerate brief and
superficial interaction with the public, which is incidental
to his primary job duties. He is unable to work in crowded,
hectic environments. The claimant can tolerate brief and
superficial interaction with supervisors and co-workers, but
is not to engage in tandem tasks.
R. 36-37. With these limitations, the ALJ found at step four
that Kennedy is unable to perform any past relevant work as a
tractor trailer driver. R. 44. Considering Kennedy's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded there
are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Kennedy can perform, including assembler of
small products, sewing machine operator, and hand packer. R.
45. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded Kennedy was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
R. 46. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Kennedy's request for review. Thereafter, Kennedy
commenced this action for judicial review.
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 “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind could accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Schaaf v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869,
874 (7th Cir. 2010). 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).
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. ...