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Ragsdale v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 8, 2019

DON RAGSDALE, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          I. DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. DUFFI U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Don Ragsdale alleges that he has been disabled since October 1, 2013, due to a heart attack, arthritis, gout, diabetes, back problems, high blood pressure, kidney problems, skin fungus (both feet), and chronic pain. (Tr. 67.) In October 2014 he applied for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 196-202; see Tr. 15.) After his application was denied initially (Tr. 67-75) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 76-88), a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on May 30, 2017 (Tr. 32-47). On August 2, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding Ragsdale was not disabled. (Tr. 15-23.) The Appeals Council denied Ragsdale's request for review on April 18, 2018. (Tr. 1-3.) This action followed. All parties have consented to the full jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (ECF Nos. 3, 9), and the matter is ready for resolution.

         ALJ'S DECISION

         In determining whether a person is disabled an ALJ applies a five-step sequential evaluation process. At step one the ALJ determines whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity. The ALJ found that Ragsdale “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 22, 2014, the application date[.]” (Tr. 17.)

         The 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. §§ 404.152(c), 416.920(c). An impairment is severe if it significantly limits a claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1522(a). The ALJ concluded that Ragsdale has the following severe impairments: “diabetes mellitus with diabetic nephropathy/chronic kidney disease; lumbosacral spondylosis without myelopathy; hypertension with history of myocardial infarction; osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees; history of gout; obstructive sleep apnea; obesity; and history of right shoulder torn bicep[.]” (Tr. 17.)

         At step 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 twelvemonth duration requirement, 20 C.F.R. § 404.909, 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 Ragsdale “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments[.]” (Tr. 17.)

         In between steps three and four the ALJ must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), “which is [his] ‘ability to do physical and mental work activities on a regular basis despite limitations from [his] impairments.'” Ghiselli v. Colvin, 837 F.3d 771 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014)). 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 Ragsdale has the RFC

to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except requires work that is unskilled with one, two, or three step instructions that is non-fast rate production, defined as involving no conveyor belt or assembly line work; the claimant requires an environment with only occasional changes in the work setting; can lift and/or carry 5 pounds frequently with 10 pounds occasionally (for very little up to 1/3 of an 8-hour workday); can stand and/or walk (with normal breaks) for about 2 hours in an 8-hour workday but can do so for only 15 minutes at one time; can sit (with normal breaks) for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday but can do so for only 30 minutes at one time; needs a cane to ambulate; can perform pushing and pulling motions with the upper and lower extremities within the aforementioned weight restrictions for no more than two thirds of an 8hour workday; needs to avoid overhead reaching with the right upper extremity; can perform activities requiring bilateral manual dexterity for both gross and fine manipulation with handling and reaching for no more than two thirds of an 8-hour workday; needs to avoid hazards in the workplace such as moving machinery and unprotected heights; job responsibilities do not include the use of handheld vibrating tools; needs to be restricted to a “relatively clean” work environment, meaning stable temperatures, stable humidity, and good ventilation that allows [Ragsdale] to avoid concentrated exposure to dusts, fumes, gases, odors, and other pulmonary irritants; can perform each of the following postural activities occasionally: balancing, stooping, and crouching, but needs to avoid climbing, kneeling, and crawling; and requires work that, in addition to any regularly scheduled breaks, allows [Ragsdale] to be off task up to 10% per 8-hour workday due to the symptoms from his impairments and/or the ancillary effects of treatment for such impairments.

(Tr. 18.)

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ at step four must determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the requirements of his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1526, 416.965. Ragsdale's past relevant work was as a security guard. (Tr. 21.) The ALJ concluded that he “is unable to perform any past relevant work.” (Id.)

         The last step of the sequential evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work, considering his RFC, age, education and work experience. At this step the ALJ concluded that, considering Ragsdale's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Ragsdale can perform. (Tr. 22.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert, who testified that a hypothetical individual of Ragsdale's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the requirements of bookkeeping, accounting, and audit clerks, e.g., ticket counter; general office clerks, e.g., document preparer; and reception and information clerks, e.g., telephone information clerk. (Id.) After finding that Ragsdale could perform work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that he is not disabled. (Tr. 22-23.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's role in reviewing an ALJ's decision is limited. It must “uphold an ALJ's final decision if the correct legal standards were applied and supported with substantial evidence.” L.D.R. by Wagner v. Berryhill, 920 F.3d 1146, 1152 (7th Cir. 2019) (citing 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 might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010)). “The court is not to ‘reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.'” Burmester v. Berryhill, 920 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 2019) (quoting Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003)). “Where substantial evidence supports the ALJ's disability ...


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