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Louis-Brux v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 5, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         William Louis-Brux seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claim for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision will be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four.


         Louis-Brux initially filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) on July 12, 2010. (Tr. 13.) The agency denied the claim on December 29, 2010 and Louis-Brux did not appeal the denial. On October 3, 2014, Louis-Brux protectively filed an application for DIB and on October 7, 2014, he protectively filed an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”). (Id.) In both applications, Louis-Brux alleged disability beginning on April 1, 2009 due to major depression with reoccurring suicidal tendencies, type one diabetes, and seizures. (Tr. 13, 280.) Both claims were denied initially; however, upon reconsideration, the agency approved Louis-Brux's application for SSI as of the October 7, 2014 protective filing date. (Tr. 13, 21.)

         A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 31, 2017 regarding his DIB claim. (Tr. 29-68.) Louis-Brux (represented by counsel) testified at the hearing, as did John Reiser, a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 30.) In a written decision issued June 27, 2017, the ALJ found that although Louis-Brux alleged disability beginning on April 1, 2009, because the agency previously found him not disabled as of December 29, 2010 and Louis-Brux never appealed that finding, res judicata applied and Louis-Brux's earliest alleged onset date was December 30, 2010, the day after the prior denial. (Tr. 13.)

         Thus, the ALJ found that from the onset date of December 30, 2010 to June 30, 2011 (Louis-Brux's date last insured), he had the severe impairments of affective disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, and diabetes. (Tr. 16.) The ALJ further found that Louis-Brux 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. 16- 18.) The ALJ found Louis-Brux had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with the following limitations: occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; cannot work at unprotected heights or around moving mechanical parts; and limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks but not at a production rate pace (e.g., assembly line work) and limited to making only simple work-related decisions. (Tr. 18.)

         While the ALJ found Louis-Brux was unable to perform any past relevant work, he also found that given Louis-Brux's age, education, work experience, and RFC, other jobs existed in significant No. in the national economy that Louis-Brux could perform. (Tr. 20.) As such, the ALJ found Louis-Brux was not disabled from his alleged onset date until his date last insured. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-5.)


         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

         Louis-Brux argues that the ALJ erred in two specific ways: (1) the ALJ propounded a hypothetical question to the VE that failed to adequately account for Louis-Brux's moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace and (2) the ALJ failed to inquire about an alleged discrepancy between the VE's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles in violation of Social Security Ruling 00-4p. (Pl.'s Br., Docket # 13.)

         As an initial matter, Louis-Brux only challenges the ALJ's denial of DIB benefits from December 30, 2010 to June 30, 2011. Louis-Brux does not argue that the ALJ erred in considering his alleged onset date to be December 30, 2010, as opposed to April 1, 2009, because of the previously unchallenged finding of no disability on December 29, 2010. Louis-Brux does fault the ALJ, however, for failing to ...

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