United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S
William C. Griesbach, Chief United States District Judge.
Angie Ann Cousineau 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 under Title II of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge's
(ALJ) decision is flawed and requires remand because the ALJ
failed to properly weigh the opinions of her rheumatologist.
For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Commissioner
will be reversed and remanded.
age 40 at the time, filed an application for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits on February 10,
2014, alleging disability beginning January 21, 2014. She
listed Type I diabetes, fibromyalgia, arthritis, heart
disease, hypothyroidism, gastroperesis, and Raynaud's
disease as the conditions that limited her ability to work.
R. 211. Her application was denied initially on April 21,
2014, and upon reconsideration on January 23, 2015. Plaintiff
subsequently requested an administrative hearing before an
ALJ, and on April 24, 2017, ALJ Peter Kafkas held a hearing.
Plaintiff, who was appointed a representative, and a
vocational expert (VE) testified.
time of her hearing, Plaintiff lived with her husband in a
two-story house. R. 45. She testified that she lives on the
first floor of her home but can walk up one flight of stairs.
R. 46. Plaintiff worked at Oshkosh Corporation as the
director of process improvement and was responsible for
auditing. She went on medical leave due to some health
problems. R. 50. Plaintiff testified that she could walk for
10 to 20 minutes and stand for 5 to 10 minutes before her
conditions would begin bothering her. She reported that she
has difficulty grasping with her hands and picking things up
with her fingers. She attributed these difficulties to
weakness and stiffness in her hands. R. 52. Plaintiff also
reported getting lightheaded and dizzy when she stands up too
quickly and when she walks. R. 53. She testified that she
walks 10 to 20 minutes in the morning and for 5 to 10 minutes
in the afternoon. Id. Plaintiff indicated she takes
a nap in the morning and occasionally in the afternoon. R.
also testified about her average day. She reported that she
wakes up between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. and eats breakfast. She
then walks for 10 to 20 minutes to try to loosen up. After
her walk, Plaintiff takes a nap, sits in her chair, and eats
lunch. Plaintiff will occasionally read after lunch.
Depending on the day, Plaintiff will take another nap. She
then eats dinner, watches television, and goes to bed between
8:00 and 8:30 p.m. Plaintiff testified that she prepares
simple meals and her husband prepares the rest. R. 60. He
also does all of the household chores. R. 61.
written decision dated August 1, 2017, the ALJ concluded
Plaintiff was not disabled. R. 10-20. Following the
agency's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
concluded at step one that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2017,
and did not engage in substantial gainful activity since
January 21, 2014, the alleged onset date. R. 12. At step two,
the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, and ischemic heart disease.
Id. He concluded diabetes mellitus, hypertension,
Raynaud's disease, and hypothyroidism are nonsevere
impairments because they have been responsive to treatment,
cause no more than minimal vocationally relevant limitations,
have not lasted or are not expected to result in more than
minimal work-related restriction for a continuous period of
at least twelve months, are not expected to result in death,
or have not been properly diagnosed by an acceptable medical
source. R. 12-13. At step three, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments did
not meet or medically equal any listed impairments under 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 13.
reviewing the record, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except she can
“lift up to twenty pounds occasionally, lift or carry
up to ten pounds frequently, stand or walk for approximately
six hours per eight-hour work day, and sit for approximately
six hours per eight-hour workday.” R. 14. He also found
she was capable of “frequent handling
bilaterally” and “frequent fingering
bilaterally.” Id. The ALJ found at step four
that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work
as a controller, project manager, and bank manager. R. 18.
Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. R.
20. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. Plaintiff then commenced this action for
final decision of the Commissioner will be upheld if the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards and supported her
decision with substantial evidence. 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 could accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Schaaf v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869,
874 (7th Cir. 2010). 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 conclusion 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 Social Security
Administration'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.
argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinions of Dr.
Eric Gowing, her rheumatologist. Dr. Gowing completed a
number of medical source statements regarding Plaintiff's
ability to work. In February 2014, Dr. Gowing opined that
Plaintiff could not stand or walk, lift more than ten pounds,
or sit for more than one to three hours a day. R. 421. He
also noted that Plaintiff could not use her upper extremities
for grasping, fine manipulation, or pushing and pulling and
could occasionally bend, squat, climb, kneel, crawl, and
reach above shoulder level. Id. Dr. Gowing further
opined that Plaintiff was moderately limited in her ability
to perform complex and varied tasks. Id.
September 2014, Dr. Gowing noted that Plaintiff could not
maintain gainful employment due to her musculoskeletal
symptoms. R. 425. In March 2015, Dr. Gowing completed a
physical capacities evaluation form. He checked boxes
indicating that Plaintiff could occasionally lift up to five
pounds, sit for two hours, and stand or walk for one-hour
during a workday. R. 517-18. He opined that Plaintiff could
use hands for simple grasping but not fine manipulation.
Id. He also noted that Plaintiff was markedly
limited in many mental areas of work including making simple
work-related decisions and maintaining attention and
concentration. He indicated that Plaintiff suffers from
fatigue caused by ...