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Przybylski v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 12, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Jack A. Przybylski, who is representing himself in this appeal, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision will be reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four.


         Przybylski filed applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income alleging disability beginning on December 1, 2010. (Tr. 217, 219.) Przybylski's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 79- 80, 100-01.) A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on January 31, 2017. (Tr. 37-78.) Przybylski testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert. (Id.)

         In a written decision issued July 27, 2017, the ALJ found that Przybylski had the severe impairments of coronary artery disease, status post stenting; left ankle fracture, status- post open reduction internal fixation (ORIF); obesity; and right knee degenerative joint disease. (Tr. 22.) The ALJ found that Przybylski had the non-severe impairments of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, gastroesophogeal reflux disease, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 23.) The ALJ found that Przybylski 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. 24.) The ALJ found that Przybylski had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can occasionally climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he can frequently climb ramps and stairs and can frequently balance; and he can tolerate occasional exposure to hazards, such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. (Tr. 24- 25.)

         The ALJ found Przybylski capable of performing his past relevant work as a chauffeur driver and as an office machine servicer. (Tr. 29.) The ALJ alternatively found that given Przybylski's age, education, work experience, and RFC, other jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that he could also perform. (Tr. 31.) As such, the ALJ found that Przybylski was not disabled from the alleged onset date until the date of the decision. (Tr. 31.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied the Przybylski's request for review. (Tr. 1-3.)


         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)).


         Przybylski argues that the denial of his applications should be reversed for four reasons: (1) he is unable to work due to his symptoms; (2) the decision was based on inaccurate information; (3) his doctors were unwilling to cooperate in his applications; and (4) his representation by counsel at the administrative level was inadequate. (Docket # 18.) I will address each argument in turn.

         1. Evaluation of Subjective Complaints

         Pryzbylski argues that the ALJ's decision is erroneous because he is, in fact, unable to work due to severe pain in his left foot combined with problems with his right knee and wrist. (Docket # 18 at 5-6.) I construe this as a challenge to the ALJ's finding that Pryzyblski's allegations about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms were inconsistent with the evidence.

         The Commissioner's regulations set forth a two-step test for evaluating a claimant's statements regarding his symptoms. First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant suffers from a medically determinable impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged symptoms. SSR 16-3p. Second, if the claimant has such an impairment, the ALJ must evaluate the intensity and persistence of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limit the claimant's ability to work. Id. If the statements are not substantiated by objective medical evidence, the ALJ must evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the alleged symptoms based on the entire record and considering a variety of factors, including the claimant's daily activities; the location, duration, frequency, and intensity of the symptoms; factors that precipitate and aggravate the symptoms; the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication the claimant takes; treatment, other than medication, used for relief of the symptoms; other measures the claimant uses to relieve the symptoms; and any other factors concerning the claimant's functional limitations due to the symptoms. Id. While an ALJ “may discount subjective complaints of pain that are inconsistent with ...

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