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Larsen v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 9, 2019

ROBERT J. LARSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. DUFFIN U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Robert Larsen alleges that he has been disabled since October 28, 2014, due to “L4-L5 disc herniation, L5 and S1 disc herniation, lumbar fusion, additional lumbar fusion due to failure of first surgery, left rotator cuff surgery, left frozen shoulder syndrome, uncontrolled insulin dependent diabetes, depression, hypothyroi[dism], and thyroid nodules.” (Tr. 84-85.) In November 2015 he applied for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 184-85.) After his application was denied initially (Tr. 84-94) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 95-106), a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on November 30, 2017 (Tr. 31-62). On January 3, 2018, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding Larsen was not disabled. (Tr. 13-23.) The Appeals Council denied Larsen's request for review on May 1, 2018. (Tr. 1-3.) This action followed. All parties have consented to the full jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (ECF Nos. 3, 4), and the matter is now 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 Larsen “did not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from his amended alleged onset date of October 28, 2014, through his date last insured of December 31, 2014[.]” (Tr. 15.)

         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). “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 Larsen had the following severe impairments: “left shoulder degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease[.]” (Tr. 15.)

         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 416.929) (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. § 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 Larsen “did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments[.]” (Tr. 16.)

         In 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 his 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 Larsen had the RFC

to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except he could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, crouch, and occasionally crawl and stoop. He could occasionally reach overhead with his left upper extremity. He must avoid all exposure to hazards such as unprotected heights and moving mechanical parts. He must avoid exposure to extreme cold. He could occasionally be exposed to concentrated dusts, gases, fumes, odors, and poor ventilation.

(Tr. 16.)

         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. Larsen's past relevant work was as a landscaper and a construction worker. (Tr. 22.) The ALJ concluded that he “was 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 Larsen's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Larsen can perform. (Tr. 22-23.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert, who testified that a hypothetical individual of Larsen's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the requirements of callout operator, document specialist, and circuit board assembler. (Tr. 23.) After finding that Larsen could perform work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that he was not disabled. (Id.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's role in reviewing the 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).

         It is 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, where 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 ...


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