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Roberts v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 31, 2019

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

          DECISION AND ORDER

          William E. Duffin, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Jeanine Roberts alleges that she has been disabled since December 3, 2013, due to postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), syncope, supraventricular tachycardia, syringomelia, degenerative disc disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), fibromyalgia, and migraines. (Tr. 96, 106.) In December 2013 she applied for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 199-200). After her application was denied initially (Tr. 95-105) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 106-22), a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on March 22, 2017 (Tr. 34-66). On May 11, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding Roberts was not disabled. (Tr. 13-21.) The Appeals Council denied Roberts's request for review on April 9, 2018. (Tr. 1-3.) This action followed. All parties have consented to the full jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (ECF Nos. 2, 8), and this 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 Roberts “did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of December 3, 2013 through her date last insured of December 31, 2013.” (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. §§ 404.1520(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 Roberts had the following severe impairments: “postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” (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 416.926) (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. § 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 Roberts “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 do physical and mental work activities on a regular basis despite limitations from her impairments.'” Ghiselli v. Colvin, 837 F.3d 771, 774 (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 Roberts had the RFC

to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except as limited by the following. [Roberts] could occasionally climb ramps and stairs but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. [Roberts] could tolerate occasional exposure to and/or work around extreme cold and heat, wetness, humidity, fumes, gases, and other pulmonary irritants. She could not work around hazards such as moving machinery or unprotected heights. [Roberts] could not do any commercial driving.

(Tr. 16.)

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ at step four must determine whether the claimant had the RFC to perform the requirements of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1526, 416.965. The ALJ concluded that Roberts “was capable of performing [her] past relevant work as a secretary. The work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by [Roberts's] [RFC].” (Tr. 19.)

         Although the ALJ found that Roberts could have returned to her past relevant work as a secretary, she made “alternative findings for step five of the sequential evaluation process.” (Tr. 19.) The fifth step of the sequential evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant is able to do any other work, considering her RFC, age, education, and work experience. At this step the ALJ concluded that, “considering [Roberts's] age, education, work experience, and [RFC], there are jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that [she] also could have performed.” (Id.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert, who testified that a hypothetical individual of Roberts's age, education, work experience, and RFC would have been able to perform the requirements of occupations such as appointment clerk, sorter, and document archiver. (Tr. 20.)

         After finding that Roberts could have performed work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that she was not under a disability “at any time from December 3, 2013, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2013, the date last insured.” (Tr. 20.)

         STANDARD ...


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