United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
RONNIE B. HOWARD, Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
JOSEPH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
B. Howard seeks judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying
his claim for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits and for supplemental security income under the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons
below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
filed an application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income on July 31, 2013. (Tr. 25.)
Howard alleges disability beginning on June 7, 2013, due to a
back disorder, depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes
mellitus, and hypertension. (Tr. 32.) Howard's
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration.
(Tr. 25.) Howard filed a request for a hearing and a hearing
was held before an Administrative Law Judge on September 19,
2016. (Tr. 44- 97.) Howard testified at the hearing, as did
James J. Radke, a vocational expert. (Id. at 44.)
written decision issued November 29, 2016, the ALJ found that
Howard had the severe impairment of disorders of the back.
(Tr. 27.) The ALJ further found that Howard did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (the “listings”). (Tr.
31.) The ALJ found Howard had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with the
following limitations: never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, kneel,
crouch, or crawl; never work at unprotected heights; and will
be off-task less than ten percent of the time in an
eight-hour workday in addition to normal breaks.
found that Howard could perform his past relevant work as a
school cafeteria cook. (Tr. 37.) As such, the ALJ found that
Howard was not disabled from his alleged onset date until the
date of the decision. (Tr. 38.) The ALJ's decision became
the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals
Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. (Tr.
Applicable Legal Standards
Commissioner's final decision will be upheld if the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards and supported his
decision with substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir.
2011). Substantial evidence is not conclusive evidence; it is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Schaaf
v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869, 874 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal
quotation and citation omitted). 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 conclusions 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 SSA'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 v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 697 (7th Cir.
2012) (citing SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80,
93-95 (1943); Campbell v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 299, 307
(7th Cir. 2010)).
Application to this Case
argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly weighing the
opinion evidence in the record; (2) finding his depression
non-severe; (3) improperly discounting Howard's
subjective symptoms; (4) failing to properly consider
Howard's obesity; and (5) finding that Howard could
return to his past work as a school cafeteria cook. I will
address each argument in turn.
Weight Given to Opinion Evidence in the Record
argues that the ALJ erred by assigning little weight to the
opinion of Howard's treating primary care physician, Dr.
Benjamin Tobin, and to the assessments in the treatment notes
of Howard's treating physician, Dr. Vance Masci (a
specialist in occupational medicine). Howard further argues
that the ALJ erred in assigning great weight to the State
Agency consultants' opinions.
must consider all medical opinions in the record, but the
method of evaluation varies depending on the source.
Generally, more weight is given to the medical opinions of
treating sources. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(c)(2). If the opinion of a treating source is
well- supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
other substantial evidence in the record, the opinion is
given “controlling weight.” Id. Even if
the ALJ finds that the opinion is not entitled to controlling
weight, he may not simply reject it. Social Security Ruling
(“SSR”) 96-2p. Rather, if the ALJ finds that a
treating source opinion does not meet the standard for
controlling weight, he must evaluate the opinion's weight
by considering a variety of factors, including the length,
nature and extent of the claimant ...