United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, CHIEF JUDGE.
Mary Godfrey filed this action for judicial review of a
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act. Godfrey contends that the
administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is flawed and
requires remand because the ALJ erred in his evaluation of
medical opinions and the ALJ's residual functional
capacity (RFC) assessment and hypothetical posed to the
vocational expert (VE) did not adequately account for her
concentration, persistence, and pace (CPP) limitations. For
the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision will
be reversed and remanded.
March of 2012, Godfrey filed a Title II application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging that her disability
began on February 1, 2012. R. 20. Godfrey listed piriformis
syndrome and chronic diarrhea as the conditions that limited
her ability to work. R. 169. After her application was denied
initially and on reconsideration, Godfrey had a hearing
before an ALJ on March 12, 2014. In a decision issued on May
15, 2014, the ALJ found that Godfrey had several severe
impairments, including morbid obesity with BMI above 60, an
associated history of piriformis syndrome, and major
depression, but was not disabled. Godfrey sought judicial
review of the Commissioner's final order at that time,
and on March 22, 2016, the court remanded the case to the
Social Security Administration (SSA) based on the
parties' stipulation to evaluate findings regarding
Godfrey's cognitive impairment, obtain a consultative
examination with cognitive testing as warranted, and obtain
medical expert testimony as warranted. R. 423. On April 12,
2017, ALJ Jeffry Gauthier conducted a video hearing where
Godfrey, who was represented by counsel, and a VE testified.
time of the hearing, Godfrey was 34 years old, was five feet
four inches in height, and weighed 333 pounds. She was single
and lived with her parents, both of whom are on disability,
in Lakewood, Wisconsin. R. 352-54, 56. Godfrey has no income
and has never been employed. R. 349, 354. Godfrey testified
that she has a driver's license and receives medical
coverage from the state. R. 355-56.
her physical impairments, Godfrey testified that she has
constant sharp pain in her lower back that also radiates down
into her leg on a daily basis. R. 360, 370-71. As a result,
Godfrey stated that on a good day she has difficulties
staying seated for more than ten minutes and needs to get up
and walk around but that she is unable to walk around for
more than five minutes before she is uncomfortable again. R.
373-74. On bad days, which occur 4 to 5 times a week, Godfrey
is unable to be comfortable while standing or sitting. R.
374. Godfrey testified that the prescription medicine she
takes to help with pain and sleeping, Gabapentin, is
ineffective, she occasionally uses heat pads for pain, weight
loss does not improve her condition, and although she was
referred to physical therapy she never attempted it because
she did not think it would help her improve. R. 360-61,
364-65. Godfrey is able to lift a gallon of milk. R. 374.
also testified regarding her cognitive capabilities,
reporting that she was not good at counting and remembering.
R. 365. In response to questions from her attorney, Godfrey
stated she can make change and do basic arithmetic. R. 373.
Godfrey stated that without her back issues her cognitive
impairment would not prevent her from being a dishwasher or
working in a childcare setting. R. 365-66. Godfrey also
stated that she does not like being around groups of people
and is scared to go anywhere alone. R. 364.
a normal day, Godfrey testified that she usually sits and
talks with her mother, occasionally watches tv, and spends a
couple of hours each day reading mostly romance novels on her
Kindle. R. 367-68, 370. Godfrey stated that she usually
cannot read for more than twenty minutes before she becomes
uncomfortable due to her back pain and has to get up to walk
around. R. 369. Godfrey testified that she helps take care of
the family dog, but is no longer able to help with chores
around the house. R. 372.
written decision dated October 3, 2017, the ALJ concluded
Godfrey was not disabled. R. 327-39. Following the
agency's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
concluded that Godfrey had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her application date, March 16, 2012. R. 329.
At step two, the ALJ found Godfrey had the following
impairments: degenerative disc disease of lumbar spine,
obesity, affective disorder, and borderline intellectual
functioning. R. 330. At step three, the ALJ
determined Godfrey's impairments or combination of
impairments did not meet or medically equal any listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Id. At step four, the ALJ concluded Godfrey has the
RFC to perform light work with additional limitations. R.
332. Relevant to the case at hand, the ALJ found the
With regard to understanding, remembering and carrying out
instructions, she can perform simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks but not at a production rate pace (e.g. assembly line
work). With regard to use of judgment in the workplace, she
can make simple work related decisions. The claimant is
capable of occasional interaction with the public and
frequent interaction with supervisors and coworkers. She can
tolerate occasional changes in a routine work setting. In
addition to regularly scheduled breaks, she will be off task
less than 10% of the time in a 8-hour workday.
Id. Godfrey has no past relevant work. R. 337. At
step five, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Godfrey could have performed, such as small part assembler,
electronics assembler, and laundry folder. R. 337-38. Based
on these findings, the ALJ concluded Godfrey was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act since the date
her application was filed. R. 338. The ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner when the
Appeals Council denied Godfrey's request for review.
Thereafter, Godfrey commenced this action for judicial
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 conclusion 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. ...