United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S
WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
an action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Toby
Strasser's applications for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits as well as for supplemental
security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. For the
reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision will
be reversed and remanded.
October 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed applications for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits as well as
for supplemental security income, alleging disability
beginning April 23, 2014. She listed stroke-cerebral
infarction, bilateral involvement; antiphosolipid antibody
syndrome; major depression disorder, recurrent episode,
moderate; hemiparesis; anxiety; ADHD; left knee meniscus tear
with bone spurs; CVA, cerebral infarction; GAF of 57; and
anticoagulation per hematology as the conditions that limited
her ability to work. R. 84. After the applications were
denied initially and upon reconsideration, Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).
ALJ John Martin conducted a hearing on May 5, 2017.
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational
expert testified. R. 31-78.
time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 40 years old and lived
with her ten-year-old daughter. R. 41. She had an eleventh
grade education and had worked as a short order cook, a CNA,
a cashier, and a day care center worker. R. 45, 48-50.
Plaintiff testified that she is unable to work because she
feels uncomfortable around people; her swollen knee prevents
her from standing; and she has pain in her head, chest, and
knees. R. 51. She also reported that she has had ongoing
issues with headaches since her April 2014 stroke. R. 58.
Plaintiff testified that she gets fifteen headaches a month.
When she gets a headache, Plaintiff indicated that she lays
still in her dark bedroom, and there cannot be any noise or
light. She cannot move because she gets nauseous. Ordinarily,
the headaches last for three to four days, but if she can get
lay down immediately, it will only last for one day. R. 59.
her typical day, Plaintiff testified that she wakes up at
6:30 a.m. to get her daughter to school. When her daughter
leaves for school, Plaintiff lays down and takes her
medication. Then she cooks dinner and goes to bed between
7:30 and 8:00 p.m. R. 63. Although she does the dishes, she
is required to take breaks. R. 64. She does laundry but
cannot do yard work. R. 64. Plaintiff testified that she
needs assistance grocery shopping and must take a break from
walking after five minutes because she has difficulty
breathing. R. 41, 44. Although Plaintiff smokes three
cigarettes a day, she is at the “last leg of
quitting.” R. 56.
12-page decision dated July 7, 2017, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff was not disabled. R. 15-26. Following the
Agency's sequential evaluation process, the ALJ concluded
at step one that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements through March 31, 2015, and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since April 23, 2014, the
alleged onset date. R. 17. At step two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
anti-phospholipid syndrome, status post cerebrovascular
accident, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, degenerative
joint disease, and status post left anterior cruciate
ligament reconstruction. R. 17-18. He also found that
Plaintiff's affective disorder and anxiety disorder were
non-severe impairments. R. 18. At step three, the ALJ
concluded Plaintiff'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.
then determined Plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform sedentary work with the following
She could lift/carry up to 10 pounds occasionally and less
than 10 pounds frequently. The claimant could occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb ramps and stairs.
She could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding. The
claimant could not work at unprotected heights or around
moving mechanical parts. The claimant could not operate a
[motor] vehicle as part of her work duties. The claimant
cannot tolerate concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants
such as dust, odors, and fumes. The claimant must avoid more
than concentrated exposure to extreme heat.
R. 21. With these limitations, the ALJ found at step four
that, although Plaintiff cannot perform any past relevant
work as a cook, cashier II, certified nursing assistant, day
care center worker, or fast food cashier, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff can perform, such as a production worker/final
assembler, a general office clerk, and an inspector/sorter.
R. 24-25. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. R. 26. The ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. Thereafter, Plaintiff
commenced this action for judicial review.
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).
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 ...