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Noonan v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 19, 2019

HEIDE NOONAN, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          NANCY JOSEPH, United States Magistrate Judge

         Heide Noonan 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 under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons below, the Commissioner’s decision is affirmed.


         Noonan filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning on September 11, 2013 due to lupus, diabetes, diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, cholesterol, depression, hiatal hernia, cataracts, and TMD. (Tr. 65–66.) Noonan’s applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 15.) Noonan filed a request for a hearing and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on January 24, 2017. (Tr. 30–58.) Noonan testified at the hearing, as did Shannon Hollander, a vocational expert. (Tr. 30.)

         In a written decision issued February 17, 2017, the ALJ found that Noonan had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, lumbar radiculopathy, lupus, osteoarthritis, depression, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 17.) The ALJ further found that Noonan 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. 18.) The ALJ found that Noonan had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, with the following limitations: never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps or stairs; frequently finger bilaterally with the upper extremities; and limited to simple, routine tasks involving simple, work-related decisions in an environment free of fast-paced productivity requirements and with few workplace changes. (Tr. 19.)

         While the ALJ found that Noonan was unable to perform any of her past relevant work (Tr. 22), the ALJ determined that given Noonan’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant No. in the national economy that she could perform. (Tr. 23.) As such, the ALJ found that Noonan was not disabled from her alleged onset date until the date of the decision. (Tr. 24.) The ALJ’s decision became the Commissioner’s final decision when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff’s request for review. (Tr. 1–5.)


         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

         Noonan argues the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to consider whether she met Listing 11.14; (2) creating an evidentiary gap after rejecting the opinions of the state agency physicians; and (3) improperly discounting Noonan’s subjective symptoms. I will address each argument in turn.

         2.1 Consideration of Listing 11.14

         Noonan argues the ALJ erred by failing to consider whether she met Listing 11.14– Peripheral Neuropathy. The plaintiff has the burden of showing that her impairments meet or medically equal a listing. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004). To establish that an impairment or combination of impairments meet or are equivalent to a listed impairment, a plaintiff must present medical findings that meet or are equal in severity to all of the criteria in a listing. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530–31 (1990) (citing SSR 83–19 and 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a)). The Seventh Circuit has stated that an ALJ’s “failure to discuss or even cite a listing, combined with an otherwise perfunctory analysis, may require a remand.” Brindisi ex rel. Brindisi v. Barnhart, 315 F.3d 783, 786 (7th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted). However, the court has also found that “the ALJ may rely solely on opinions given in Disability Determination and Transmittal forms and provide little additional explanation . . . . [if] there is no contradictory evidence in the record.” Ribaudo v. Barnhart, 458 F.3d 580, 584 (7th Cir. 2006). Furthermore, “[a]lthough an ALJ should provide a [listings] analysis, a claimant first has the burden to present medical findings that match or equal in severity all the criteria specified by a listing.” Knox v. Astrue, 327 Fed.Appx. 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted).

         The ALJ analyzed whether Noonan’s back condition met Listing 1.04, whether her lupus met Listing 14.02, whether her carpal tunnel syndrome met Listing 1.02, and whether her mental impairments met Listing 12.04. (Tr. 18–19.) The ALJ did not, however, analyze whether the medical evidence met or medically equaled ...

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