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Resch v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 10, 2019

JESSICA R. RESCH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff Jessica R. Resch filed his action for judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Resch contends that the administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is flawed and requires remand for two reasons: (1) the ALJ erred in evaluating Resch's subjective symptoms and related limitations and (2) the ALJ erred in relying on the state agency physician opinions. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Resch first completed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on June 28, 2011, alleging disability beginning July 1, 2009. Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Resch subsequently requested an administrative hearing before an ALJ, and on March 13, 2013, ALJ Thomas J. Sanzi held a hearing. Resch amended her alleged onset date to February 1, 2011. On April 2, 2013, ALJ Sanzi concluded that Resch was not disabled under the Social Security Act. R. 66. ALJ Sanzi's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Resch's request for review on March 27, 2014. R. 71-74.

         On May 1, 2014, Resch, age 30 at the time, filed a second Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits beginning August 1, 2011. R. 196. She listed vertigo, migraines, depression, hypothyroidism, and fibromyalgia as the conditions that limited her ability to work. R. 226. Following the denial of her application initially and on reconsideration, Resch requested a hearing before an ALJ. ALJ Karen Sayon conducted a hearing on June 1, 2017. Resch, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert (VE) testified.

         At the outset, Resch amended her onset date to August 4, 2014, and her counsel indicated that she sought a closed period of disability from August 4, 2014 through December 31, 2014. R. 36. At the time of the hearing, Resch lived in a house with her husband in Bryant, Wisconsin. R. 38. She testified that her husband drove her to the hearing because she experiences vertigo and feels unsteady driving. R. 39. Resch graduated from college with a degree in health promotion and wellness. Id. From 2006 to 2009, Resch worked as a wellness coordinator for Landlake Hospital. R. 40. The position was grant-funded and its funding lapsed in June 2009. R. 45. Resch did not engage in any other substantial gainful activity after her position had been terminated.

         Resch's attorney indicated her medically determinable severe impairments included dizziness and migraines. R. 37. Resch testified that she had three to seven headaches every month, each lasting 12 hours to four days. R. 40. She took Ibuprofen, Citalopram, Cardizem, and Jolessa for the headaches. R.41-42. Resch indicated that her headaches were more frequent and intense when her doctors modified her medications. R. 46. She reported that she has vertigo every day, but flare-ups occur three to seven days each month. R. 42. Resch stated that her vertigo increased when she had a headache. She testified that the vertigo causes her to feel unsteady and prevents her from engaging in physical activity that lasts longer than five to ten minutes. R. 43.

         Resch also testified about her average day. She reported that she gets out of bed, takes her medication then eats breakfast, walks to get the mail, eats lunch, watches television, eats supper, then goes to bed. R. 44. She does not do any chores and sporadically uses a computer. R. 45. When she does leave the house, she cannot be gone for more than four hours. R. 46. On days when she has a migraine, she stays in bed all day and puts an ice pack on her neck.

         In a written decision dated June 8, 2017, the ALJ concluded Resch was not disabled at any time from August 4, 2014, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2014, the date last insured. R. 17-27. Following the agency's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ concluded at step one that Resch last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2014, and did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date through her date last insured. R. 19. At step two, the ALJ found Resch had the following severe impairments: migraine headaches, dizziness/vertigo, and obesity. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined Resch'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. 21.

         After reviewing the record, the ALJ concluded Resch had the residual functional capacity (RFC) through the date last insured to “perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c) except she could not be exposed to hazards, defined as work at heights or around dangerous moving machinery like a forklift. Any work must have been performed in an environment with a noise intensity level of 1, 2, or 3, as defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.” R. 22. The ALJ found at step four that Resch was unable to perform her past relevant work as a health service coordinator. R. 25. She nevertheless found at step five that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Resch could have performed, including linen room attendant, laundry worker, and marker. R. 26. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded Resch was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act from August 4, 2014, through December 31, 2014. R. 27. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Resch's request for review. Resch then commenced this action for judicial review.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The final decision of the Commissioner 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).

         The ALJ is also expected to follow the Social Security Administration'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 ...


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