United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER
William E. Duffin U.S. Magistrate Judge.
Alonzo Williams alleges that he has been disabled since
September 1, 2014 (Tr. 13) and is unable to work because of
“pain in the legs, pain in the right arm, a back
disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome, bilateral trigger thumbs,
and depression” (Tr. 19 (internal citations omitted)).
In February 2015 he applied for disability insurance benefits
(Tr. 235-38) and supplemental security income benefits (Tr.
239-44). After his application was denied initially (Tr.
70-115) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 116-47), a hearing was
held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on July 27,
2017 (Tr. 35-66). On December 21, 2017, the ALJ issued a
written decision concluding Williams was not disabled. (Tr.
13-27.) The Appeals Council denied Williams's request for
review on August 13, 2018. (Tr. 1-3.) This action followed.
All parties have consented to the full jurisdiction of a
magistrate judge (ECF Nos. 4, 7), and this matter is now
ready for resolution.
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 Williams “has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1,
2014, the alleged onset date[.]” (Tr. 15.)
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 Williams has the following severe impairments:
“degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine,
bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, bilateral thumb flexor
tenosynovitis, and depression[.]” (Tr. 15.)
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 Williams “does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments[.]” (Tr. 16.)
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 Williams has the RFC
to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
and 416.967(a) except he can never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds; he is limited to occasional climbing of ramps and
stairs, occasional balancing, occasional stooping, occasional
crouching, occasional kneeling and occasional crawling; he
can perform no more than frequent bilateral handling and
fingering of objects; he must be able to use a handheld
assistive device (a cane); he can have no exposure to
unprotected heights or moving machinery; and he is limited to
understanding, carrying out and remembering no more than
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. Williams's past relevant
work was as a fast food worker, fast food services manager,
and bindery worker. (Tr. 25.) The ALJ concluded that Williams
“is unable to perform any past relevant work[.]”
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,
“[c]onsidering [Williams's] age, education, work
experience, and [RFC], there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that [he] can
perform[.]” (Tr. 26.) In reaching that conclusion, the
ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert (VE), who
testified that a hypothetical individual of Williams's
age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the
requirements of occupations such an order clerk, office
helper, and inspector. (Id.) After finding Williams
could perform work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded
that he was not disabled. (Tr. 27.)
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 determination, [the court] must affirm the
[ALJ's] decision even if ‘reasonable minds could
differ concerning whether [the claimant] is
disabled.'” L.D.R. by Wagner, 920 F.3d at
1152 (quoting Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d at 413).
argues that the ALJ erred (1) in giving little weight to the
opinions of treating physicians William Gerard, D.O., and
Nosheen Hasan, M.D.; (2) in evaluating his statements
concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects
of his symptoms; and (3) by failing to address in the RFC
assessment all of Williams's limitations, including his
need for a walker and his need to move after sitting for an
extended period of time. (ECF No. 13 at 7.)
Medical Opinion Evidence
claims filed before March 2017, a treating physician's
opinion on the nature and severity of a medical condition is
entitled to controlling weight if it is well-supported by
medical findings and consistent with substantial evidence in
the record.” Johnson v. Berryhill, 745
Fed.Appx. 247, 250 (7th Cir. 2018) (citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2); Brown v. Colvin, 845 F.3d 247, 252
(7th Cir. 2016)). “If an ALJ does not give a treating
physician's opinion controlling weight, the regulations
require the ALJ to consider the length, nature, and extent of
the treatment relationship, frequency of examination, the
physician's specialty, the types of tests performed, and
the consistency and supportability of the physician's
opinion” to determine how much weight to give the
opinion. Moss v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir.
2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)). While
“[a]n ALJ must offer good reasons for discounting a
treating physician's opinion, ” Campbell v.
Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 306 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal
quotations and citation omitted), courts will uphold
“all but the most patently erroneous reasons for
discounting a treating physician's assessment.”
Stepp v. Colvin, 795 F.3d 711, 718 (7th Cir. 2015)
(citing Luster v. Astrue, 358 Fed.Appx. 738, 740
(7th Cir. 2010)).
Primary Care Doctor-Dr. William Gerard
argues that the ALJ erred in giving “little
weight” to his primary care doctor, Dr. William Gerard.
(ECF No. 13 at 8-15.) In September 2015 Dr. Gerard opined
that Williams would be able to perform full-time work on a
sustained basis fifty percent of a typical workday; could
continuously sit for one hour and continuously stand for
thirty minutes at one time; could sit for at least six hours
and stand/walk for less than two hours in an eight-hour
workday; could frequently lift and carry less than ten
pounds, occasionally lift and carry ten pounds, occasionally
lift and carry twenty pounds, and rarely lift and carry fifty
pounds; could occasionally grasp, turn, and twist objects;
could occasionally make fine manipulations with his fingers;
would, on average, be absent from work (or miss at least a
couple hours of work) two days per month; and requires an
assistive device - a cane - to ambulate. (Tr. 447-51.)
gave “significant weight” to part of Dr.
Gerard's opinion, explaining:
The undersigned gives significant weight to the limitations
set forth by Dr. Gerard that [Williams] could sit for at
least six hours in an eight-hour workday, he could lift and
carry ten pounds on an occasional basis, and he required the
use of a cane. These limitations about sitting, lifting and
carrying find support in the medical evidence showing that
the claimant had degenerative disc disease but he still
displayed some good function upon examination, such as full
strength, intact sensation, and no neurologic deficits.
Moreover, the limitation about the use of a cane is supported
by the statements of other medical providers.
(Tr. 23-242 (internal citations omitted).) However, the ALJ
gave “little weight” to other parts of Dr.
Gerard's opinion, explaining:
[T]he undersigned gives little weight to Dr. Gerard's
opinion that [Williams] would miss two days of work each
month because it is not supported by the medical evidence.
Furthermore, the undersigned gives little weight to the other
limitations set forth by Dr. Gerard that are inconsistent
with the residual functional capacity because they are
unsupported by the medical evidence. For instance, Dr.
Gerard's assessment that [Williams] could stand/walk for
less than two hours in an eight-hour workday is too
restrictive given the evidence as a whole. The limitations
about sitting and standing at one time also appear to be too
restrictive. It is notable that Dr. Gerard's own progress
notes documented that [Williams] had a normal gait, normal
joint ranges of motion, normal reflexes, and intact motor
strength. Likewise, it is unclear from the questionnaire and
the treatment records how Dr. Gerard concluded that
[Williams] had a 50 percent limitation in his abilities to
persist with tasks and maintain work pace/efficiency with
even simple work tasks. As to handling and fingering, the
undersigned finds that occasional handling and fingering is
too restrictive given that [Williams] benefited from surgery
and he displayed fairly good function both before and after
Dr. Gerard also filled out a form about mental limitations in
September 2015. Dr. Gerard opined that the claimant could
perform most of the designated functions without limitations,
but he had a slight limitation in the ability to complete a
normal workday/week without interruptions from symptoms that
cause an unreasonable number and length of rest periods. The
undersigned gives little weight to Dr. Gerard's opinion
because [Williams's] depression mostly developed in 2016
after this opinion was offered.
(Tr. 24 (internal citations omitted).)
gave “little weight” to Dr. Gerard's opinion
that Williams could stand/walk for less than two hours in an
eight-hour workday because it was too restrictive given Dr.
Gerard's findings of “a normal gait, normal joint
ranges of motion, normal reflexes, and intact motor
strength.” (Id.) However, as Williams argues,
“it is unclear how any of these findings detracts from