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Bickel v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

August 30, 2019

AMY BICKEL, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          NANCY JOSEPH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Amy Bickel seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons below, the Commissioner’s decision is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four.

         BACKGROUND

         Bickel filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and an application for supplemental security income alleging disability beginning on June 1, 2012 due to spine and lower back pain, depression, and anxiety. (Tr. 134.) Bickel’s applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 13.) Bickel filed a request for a hearing and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge on July 27, 2017. (Tr. 35–105.) Bickel testified at the hearing, as did Catherine Anderson, a vocational expert, and Dr. Albert Oguejiofor and Dr. Michael Lace, two medical experts. (Tr. 13.)

         In a written decision issued August 25, 2017, the ALJ found that Bickel had the severe impairments of depression and anxiety. (Tr. 15.) While the ALJ considered Bickel’s allegations of disabling pain due to her lower back and spine, the ALJ found Bickel had no severe physical impairments. (Tr. 16–19.) The ALJ further found that Bickel 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. 19–21.) The ALJ found Bickel had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following nonexertional limitations: no fast pace production tasks; no more than daily quotas; occasional contact with the public, supervisors, and coworkers; and few changes to work locations or tasks. (Tr. 21–26.)

         The ALJ found Bickel capable of performing her past relevant work as a cleaner. (Tr. 26.) The ALJ alternatively found that given Bickel’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that she could also perform. (Id.) As such, the ALJ found that Bickel was not disabled from her alleged onset date until the date of the decision. (Tr. 27.) The ALJ’s decision became the Commissioner’s final decision when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff’s request for review. (Tr. 1–5.)

         DISCUSSION

         1. Applicable Legal Standards

         The 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).

         The ALJ 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)).

         2. Application to this Case

         Bickel argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) improperly evaluating the opinion of her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond Kloss; (2) erroneously formulating Bickel’s RFC, specifically the finding that Bickel could perform a full range of work at all exertional levels; and (3) relying on the VE’s unreliable testimony. I will address each in turn, but will begin with the second alleged error.

         2.1 No Physical Limitations in RFC

         At step two of the five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ determines whether a claimant has one or more medically determinable physical or mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521. An impairment must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques; thus, a physical or mental impairment must be established by objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. Id. A plaintiff’s statement of symptoms, a diagnosis, or a medical opinion alone will not establish the existence of an impairment. Id. After a medically determinable impairment is established, the ALJ then determines whether the impairment is severe. Id. An impairment is severe if “it significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities” and is non-severe if it is a slight abnormality “that has no more than a minimal effect on the ability to do basic work activities.” Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-3p (rescinded effective June 14, 2018). However, in assessing RFC, an ALJ must consider limitations and restrictions ...


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