United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge United States District
Heather Plainse filed this action for judicial review of a
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social
Security Act and supplemental security income (SSI) under
Title XVI of the Act. Plainse alleged an onset date of June
11, 2014 in her applications. Plainse contends that the
administrative law judge's (ALJ) decision is flawed and
requires remand for four reasons: (1) the ALJ's residual
functional capacity (RFC) assessment did not account for
Plainse's severe fatigue and was not assessed on a
function-by-function basis; (2) the ALJ's listing
discussion that related to Plainse's arthritis only
offered a perfunctory analysis; (3) the ALJ failed to give
controlling weight to Dr. Koster's opinion; and (4) the
vocational expert's (VE) findings are inconsistent with
the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). For the reasons
that follow, the Commissioner's decision will be
filed her applications on February 19, 2015 and listed double
outlet right ventricle/hypoplastic left ventricle and
juvenile idiopathic arthritis as the conditions that limited
her ability to work. R. 12, 330. After her applications were
denied, both initially and on reconsideration, Plainse
requested a hearing before an ALJ. On July 17, 2017, ALJ
Roosevelt Currie conducted a video hearing where Plainse, who
was represented by counsel, and a VE testified. R. 33-62.
time of the hearing, Plainse was 22 years old. R. 36. Plainse
testified that the highest level of education that she had
completed was a year of online college courses, and that she
was too exhausted and fatigued as a result of her medical
conditions to continue the courses. R. 36, 39. Plainse's
source of income at the time was a part-time job where she
worked 15 hours a week at a Payless Shoes in a position that
required her to be standing most of the time. R. 37.
Plainse's prior work experience included working as a
scheduler at Thrivent Financial, a customer service
representative at Planet Fitness, and a cashier and sales
associate at Shopko Express. R. 41-42. In general, Plainse
worked between 25 to 30 hours a week in these positions but
occasionally worked more hours. Id. These positions
generally required her to sit or stand continuously, which
led to her becoming exhausted and stiff, and her conditions
resulted in her being absent from work regularly.
Id. Plainse stated that she limits herself to
part-time hours because she becomes too fatigued, stiff, and
exhausted if she works more than 15 hours. R. 38. When she
does work more than 15 hours, she reported that she needs to
lay down for the remainder of the day, and often gets a
headache. R. 39, 44.
her physical conditions, Plainse stated she was diagnosed
with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of two. R.
38-39. She testified that her arthritis causes burning pain
in her wrists and fingers, and swelling in her hands along
her joints. R. 45. Depending on the day, Plainse stated her
arthritis can make it difficult for her to button things, tie
her shoes, and use a computer. R. 44-45. Plainse testified
that she experiences swelling, soreness, and pain in her
knees, legs, and ankles that is brought on by standing for
more than 20 minutes or walking more than 15 minutes. R.
48-49. Plainse also stated that cold weather affects her,
making her joints ache even more. R. 48. She testified that
the pain can wake her up at night if she worked too much on a
given day. R. 49.
is currently prescribed Orencia for her arthritis, which she
takes once a week, and she stated that prior medications were
no longer effective. R. 46. She indicated that Orencia works
for the most part, but as a result of taking the medication
she experiences headaches daily or every other day. R. 46-47,
52. Plainse further stated that these headaches can turn into
migraines once or twice a week, and that she takes Tylenol to
treat them. R. 46-47, 49.
also suffered a stroke resulting from a blood clot in her
heart. She stated that she takes Warfarin as a result and
occasionally gets headaches as a side effect of the stroke.
R. 49. Plainse reported that she feels sick all of the time
with cold-like symptoms and that she has a thyroid
condition-for which she takes medication-that results in her
feeling fatigued. R. 50, 52. Plainse further testified that,
in general, she experiences fatigue and exhaustion as a
result of her conditions whenever she works. See R.
38-55. Plainse also stated that the pain, fatigue, and
exhaustion interfere with her ability to complete activities
and focus. R. 51-52.
her daily activities, Plainse testified that she is often too
exhausted and tired to go anywhere and that typically after
coming home from work she rests for the remainder of the day.
R. 47, 50. Plainse lives with her parents, and she stated her
mother does the laundry, cooking, and a majority of the
cleaning. Plainse testified that she does dishes
occasionally, but not for more than five minutes, and that
she does not help carry groceries because they are too heavy.
R. 47-48, 51. Plainse also stated that she tries to exercise
but finds it too difficult because of her exhaustion. R. 52.
twelve-page decision dated August 24, 2017, the ALJ
determined that Plainse is not disabled. R. 12-23. The
ALJ's decision followed the five-step sequential process
for determining disability prescribed by the Social Security
Administration (SSA). R. 13-14. At step one, the ALJ
concluded that Plainse has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since her June 11, 2014 alleged onset date and that
she met the insured status requirements through September 30,
2015. R. 14. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plainse has
the following severe impairments: congenital heart disease
and rheumatoid arthritis. R. 15. At step three, the ALJ
concluded Plainse did not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that met or medically equaled the impairments
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R.
the ALJ assessed Plainse's RFC and found that she can
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), subject to the following
The individual can stand/walk for about two hours and sit for
up to six hours in an eight-hour workday, with normal breaks;
frequently balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, occasionally
climb ramps and stairs; and never climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds. The individual should avoid concentrated exposure
to heights, moving machinery, and similar hazards.
R. 17. At step four, the ALJ then concluded, based on the
testimony by the VE, that Plainse is unable to perform any
past relevant work as a sales associate. R. 21. The ALJ also
concluded based on the VE's testimony that Plainse would
be able to perform the requirements of the following
representative occupations: order clerk and final assembly.
R. 22. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plainse is not
disabled. Id. The Appeals Council denied
Plainse's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
review of the decisions of administrative agencies is
intended to be deferential. Parker v. Astrue, 597
F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010). The Social Security Act
specifies that the “findings of the Commissioner of
Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that
“[u]nder the substantial-evidence standard, a court
looks to an existing administrative record and asks whether
it contains ‘sufficien[t] evidence' to support the
agency's factual determinations.” Beistek v.
Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). “The phrase ‘substantial evidence,
'” the Court explained, “is a ‘term of
art' used throughout administrative law to describe how
courts are to review agency factfinding.” Id.
“And whatever the meaning of ‘substantial' in
other contexts, ” the Court noted, “the threshold
for such evidentiary sufficiency is not ...