United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, CHIEF JUDGE.
Abigail Perez 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. Perez contends that the
administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is flawed and
requires remand for three reasons: (1) the ALJ failed to
properly consider the supplemental vocational opinion of
Paula Santagati, a senior vocational rehabilitation
counselor; (2) the ALJ failed to properly assess the medical
opinions of consulting examining psychologist Steven Krawiec
and the non-examining state agency consultants; and (3) the
ALJ failed to account for Perez's moderate limitations
with regard to concentration, persistence, or pace when
posing hypotheticals to the vocational expert (VE) and in her
residual functional capacity (RFC) analysis. For the reasons
that follow, the decision of the Commissioner will be
August of 2013, Perez filed a Title II application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging that her disability
began on September 26, 2012. She listed anxiety disorder,
high blood pressure, chronic neck and back pain, mental
illness, severe depression, and bipolar disorder as the
conditions that limited her ability to work. R. 229.
Following the denial of her application, both initially and
on reconsideration, Perez requested a hearing before an ALJ.
On April 27, 2016, ALJ Janice M. Bruning conducted a video
hearing where Perez, who was represented by counsel, and a VE
testified. R. 50-77. At the hearing Perez amended her onset
date to January 10, 2013. R. 63.
who was 48 at the time of the hearing, has a GED, is
certified to be a CNA, is separated from her husband, and was
receiving state-funded food assistance and health insurance.
R. 52-53. Perez testified that she has difficulties sleeping,
for which she takes medication, and uses both a CPAP and VPAP
at night. R. 55, 69-70. Perez testified that she has periodic
headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and difficulty standing,
walking, climbing stairs, and bending. R. 56-57, 67. Perez
also testified that she has difficulties reaching overhead
due to her fibromyalgia and prior surgeries to her neck and
back and that her arms get swollen and numb. R. 57-58, 66.
Although she had both neck and back surgery, Perez stated
that the surgeries did not improve her symptoms, steroid
injections only provide limited relief, she still has pain in
her legs, and her legs give out while walking despite the use
of a cane. R. 65-67. Perez further testified that she
experiences pain everywhere as a result of fibromyalgia and
that therapy has been ineffective.
her mental health, Perez testified that she has anxiety
issues, PTSD, difficulties interacting with people and being
around crowds of people, anger issues, hears voices in her
head, is bi-polar, and that she takes various medications to
address these symptoms. R. 64-65, 68-69. Due to her mental
health issues, Perez stated that she has difficulties
concentrating for more than five minutes at a time. R. 69.
stated she receives assistance with her personal care,
laundry, and cleaning from a friend and that she does not
drive, and has difficulties leaving her home, usually only
once a month, due to her depression. R. 58-60, 63-64, 71.
Perez testified that she watches some Spanish soap operas and
checks Facebook daily. R. 60-61. Perez also testified that
she is in alcohol and drug abuse treatment and has a DUI
conviction. R. 62-63.
written decision dated October 28, 2016, the ALJ concluded
Perez was not disabled. R. 18-40. Following the agency's
five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ concluded
that Perez had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since January 10, 2013 at step one. R. 20. At step two, the
ALJ found Perez had the following impairments: past cervical
and lumbar surgery, degenerative joint disease of the left
knee, fibromyalgia, obesity, attention disorder, affective
disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance and alcohol abuse
disorder. R. 20. At step three, the ALJ determined
Perez'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. R. 22. At step four, the ALJ
concluded Perez has the RFC to perform sedentary work, except
she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding. She can
no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance,
stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, bend, and twist. She should
avoid concentrated exposure to work hazards such as
unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery. She
should have a sit/stand option where after sitting for 30
minutes she is allowed to stand for one to two minutes. She
should be allowed to use a cane as needed to get to and from
her workstation. She can understand, remember, and carry out
no more than simple, routine tasks. She is limited to
performing the same tasks day in and day out. She should not
have contact with the public for work related purposes and no
more than occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors.
She should not have strict quotas but can do work that is
measured by what is completed by the end of the workday.
R. 26. The ALJ found that Perez was unable to perform any
past relevant work. R. 36. At step five, the ALJ concluded
that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that she can perform, such as address clerk,
account clerk, and bench sorter. R. 36-39. Based on these
findings, the ALJ concluded Perez was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. R. 40. The ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when
the Appeals Council denied Perez's request for review.
Thereafter, Perez commenced this action for judicial review.
Commissioner's final decision will be upheld if the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards and supported her
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. 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)).
contends that the ALJ erred by failing to properly assess her
moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace
when formulating the RFC assessment and the hypothetical
question posed to the VE. With respect to ...