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Loose v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 29, 2019

FAWN M. LOOSE, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Fawn Loose alleges she has been disabled since November 3, 2011 (Tr. 39) and “is unable to work due to a combination of her impairments, ” which include both physical and mental impairments (Tr. 46). In August 2012 she applied for supplemental security income. (Tr. 185-90.) After her application was denied initially (Tr. 90-104) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 105-18), a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on May 27, 2015 (Tr. 60-89). On August 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding Loose was not disabled. (Tr. 39-53.) The Appeals Council denied Loose's request for review on November 18, 2016. (Tr. 13-15.) This action followed. All parties have consented to the full jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (ECF Nos. 6, 13), and this matter is now ready for resolution.


         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 Loose “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 1, 2012, the application date[.]” (Tr. 41.)

         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 Loose has the following severe impairments: “obesity, history of right carpal tunnel syndrome surgery, cervical spine disc protrusion, patellofemoral chondromalacia, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, pain disorder, and alcohol/substance abuse disorder[.]” (Tr. 41.)

         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, 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 then proceeds to the next step. The ALJ found that Loose “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments[.]” (Tr. 42.)

         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 Loose has the RFC

to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except: [Loose] can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and no more than occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, kneel, bend, or twist. [Loose] must avoid concentrated exposure to workplace hazards such as unprotected heights and dangerous moving machinery. [Loose]requires a sit-stand option allowing her to stand for 1-2 minutes after sitting for 30 minutes. [Loose] can reach no more than frequently with both upper extremities, and use her right hand no more than frequently to handle, finger, and feel. [Loose] is limited to understanding, remembering and carrying-out simple routine tasks, with no public contact for work-related purposes and no more than occasional contact with co-workers and supervisors. [Loose] cannot have hourly quotas but can do work that is measured by what is completed by the end of the workday.

(Tr. 45-46.)

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ at step four must determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the requirements of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1526, 416.965. Loose's past relevant work was as a janitor and order picker. (Tr. 51.) The ALJ determined that Loose “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 her RFC, age, education, and work experience. At this step the ALJ concluded that, “[c]onsidering [Loose's] age, education, work experience, and [RFC], there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Loose] can perform.” (Tr. 51.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert (VE), who testified that a hypothetical individual of Loose's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the requirements of occupations such as address clerk, accounts clerk, and bench sorter. (Tr. 52.) After finding that Loose could perform work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded she was not disabled. (Id.)


         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 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, 529 F.3d at 413).


         Loose argues that the ALJ erred (1) by failing to evaluate the “[f]unctional [i]mpact” of Loose's angry outbursts; (2) in improperly dismissing her sleep apnea; and (3) by not supporting her ...

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