United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
COCHERO L. GOMEZ, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. DUFFIN, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Cochero Gomez alleges that she has been disabled since
October 6, 2010, due to morbid obesity, back pain, knee pain,
asthma, thyroid disease, sensitive hands, and
anxiety/depression. (Tr. 314.) In May 2014 she applied for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income. (Tr. 220-32.) After her applications were denied
initially (Tr. 95-122) and upon reconsideration (Tr.
123-148), a hearing was held before an administrative law
judge (ALJ) on January 18, 2017 (Tr. 40-90). On August 17,
2017, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding Gomez was
not disabled. (Tr. 15-29.)
Appeals Council denied Gomez's request for review on May
7, 2018. (Tr. 1-3.) This action followed. All parties have
consented to the full jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (ECF
Nos. 3, 7), and the matter is now ready for resolution.
determining whether a person is disabled an ALJ applies a
multi-step sequential evaluation process. At step one, the
ALJ determines whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found that Gomez
“has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
October 6, 2010, the alleged onset date[.]” (Tr. 17.)
analysis then proceeds to the second step, which is a
consideration of whether the claimant has a medically
determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is
“severe.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c),
416.920(c). “In order for an impairment to be
considered severe at this step of the process, the impairment
must significantly limit an individual's ability to
perform basic work activities.” Moore v.
Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). The ALJ
concluded that Gomez has the following severe impairments:
“obesity, degenerative disc disease, asthma, and left
ulnar neuropathy[.]” (Tr. 17.)
three the ALJ is to determine whether the claimant's
impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to
meet or medically equal the criteria of the impairments
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 4, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.1526, 416.920(d) and 416.926)
(called “The Listings”). If the impairment or
impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of a
listing and also meets the twelve- month duration
requirement, 20 C.F.R. § 416.909, the claimant is
disabled. If the claimant's impairment or impairments is
not of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria set
forth in a listing, the analysis proceeds to the next step.
The ALJ found that Gomez “does not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the listed impairments[.]” (Tr.
between steps three and four the ALJ must determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is
the claimant's ability to perform both physical and
mental work-related activities on a regular and continuing
basis despite her impairments. Moore, 743 F.3d at
1121. In making the RFC finding, the ALJ must consider all of
the claimant's impairments, including impairments that
are not severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529, 416.929; SSR
96-4p. In other words, the RFC determination is a
“function by function” assessment of the
claimant's maximum work capability. Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 412 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ
concluded that Gomez has the RFC
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) as the ability to lift and carry twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand and or walk
approximately six hours in an eight hour day and sit
approximately six hours in an eight hour day, never climbing
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally climbing ramps or
stairs; occasional stooping, kneeling, crawling; occasional
handling and fingering on the left; avoid concentrated
exposure to environmental irritants such as fumes, dusts,
odors, and gases.
determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ at step four must
determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the
requirements of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1526, 416.965. The ALJ concluded that Gomez
“is capable of performing [her] past relevant work as a
transfer specialist, retail supervisor, and teller.”
(Tr. 27-28.) As such, the ALJ determined that she is not
disabled. (Tr. 28-29.)
court's role in reviewing an ALJ's decision is
limited. It does not look at the evidence anew and make an
independent determination as to whether the claimant is
disabled. Rather, the court must affirm the ALJ's
decision if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Moore, 743 F.3d at 1120. Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Id. at 1120-21 (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Thus, it is possible
that opposing conclusions both can be supported by
substantial evidence. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d
697, 699 (7th Cir. 2004).
not the court's role to reweigh evidence or substitute
its judgment for that of the ALJ. Moore, 743 F.3d at
1121. Rather, the court must determine whether the ALJ
complied with his obligation to build an “accurate and
logical bridge” between the evidence and his conclusion
that is sufficient to enable a court to review the
administrative findings. Beardsley v. Colvin, 758
F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2014); Thomas v. Colvin, 745
F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). “This deference is
lessened, however, whether the ALJ's findings rest on an
error of fact or logic.” Thomas, 745 F.3d at
806. If the ALJ committed a material error of law the court
cannot affirm the ALJ's decision regardless of whether it
is supported by substantial evidence. Beardsley, 758
F.3d at 837; Farrell v. Astrue, 692 F.3d 767, 770
(7th Cir. 2012).
argues that the ALJ (1) improperly evaluated her credibility,
(2) erred in evaluating and giving weight to the opinions of
treating physician Tammy Durant, M.D., and state-agency
psychologist Deborah Pape, Ph. D., and (3) failed to take
into account her obesity in his RFC determination. (ECF No.
making his RFC determination the ALJ must engage in a
two-step process to evaluate a claimant's symptoms.
First, the ALJ “must consider whether there is an
underlying medically determinable physical or mental
impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce
the individual's symptoms, such as pain.” SSR
16-3p, 2017 WL 5180304 at *3; see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.929. “Second, once an underlying physical or
mental impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to
produce the individual's symptoms is established, [the
ALJ] evaluate[s] the intensity and persistence of those
symptoms to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit
an individual's ability to perform work-related
activities ….” SSR 16-3p, 2017 WL 5180304 at *3.
The ALJ's evaluation of a claimant's symptoms is
entitled to “special deference” and will not be
overturned unless it is “patently wrong.”
Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 528 (7th Cir.
2017) (citing Eichstadt v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663,
667-68 (7th Cir. 2008)).
found that Gomez's medically determinable impairments
could reasonably be expected to produce back pain that
travels down her right leg, left finger numbness, gait
abnormality, difficulty sleeping, difficulty leaving the
house, and difficulty concentrating. (Tr. 22, 27.) However,
the ALJ concluded that her statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of those
symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical
evidence and other evidence in the record. (Tr. 27.) As a
result, the ALJ did not find credible Gomez's testimony
that her impairments are work preclusive.
argues that “[t]he ALJ failed to set forth in a
‘meaningful, reviewable way' the specific medical
or other evidence he considered to be inconsistent with [her]
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of [her] symptoms[.]” (ECF No. 12 at 16.)
However, contrary to Gomez's argument, the ALJ discussed
specific reasons for concluding that her statements
concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects
of her symptoms was inconsistent with the evidence in the
record. See Curvin v. Colvin, 778 F.3d 645, 651 (7th
Cir. 2015) (“Here, the ALJ discussed various
inconsistencies between [plaintiff's] alleged symptoms