United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
KATE M. STETTER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, CHIEF JUDGE
an action for judicial review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Kate M.
Stetter's application for supplemental security income
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons
given below, the decision of the Commissioner will be
has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression,
obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has been treated
for mental health issues since at least 2012. On December 13,
2013, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental
security income with an alleged onset date of June 1, 2013.
She alleged disability due to bipolar disorder and ADHD. R.
380. After her application was denied initially and on
reconsideration, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). ALJ Christopher Messina held
a hearing on November 9, 2016. Both Plaintiff, who was
represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. R.
time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 29 years old. R. 241. She
lived with her husband and two of her three children. R. 242.
Plaintiff testified that she had a high school education and
that she received special education services throughout her
schooling. She testified that she had not worked since 2013.
When she was employed, she worked for various cleaning
companies. R. 254. She reported that she would quit her job
after approximately four months of employment because she
became strongly overwhelmed and had a hard time coping. R.
242. She testified that she had a difficult time being around
other people and with social interaction, being on time, and
understanding and following directions. R. 242-43. Plaintiff
indicated that when she is in a manic phase she tends to
overspend money but when she's in a depressive, isolated
mood, she struggles to go to the grocery store on her own
because she cannot focus or concentrate. Her husband watches
their children the majority of the time. R. 243.
testified that she has difficulty remembering things due to a
traumatic brain injury she sustained in a 2007 car accident
and the medications she takes. R. 257. She claimed that she
is unable to work because of her mental health problems. R.
243. Plaintiff testified that she sees a psychiatrist and a
therapist but reported that she struggles with her current
medication and feels shaky and lightheaded. R. 245-46, 261.
She testified that her husband had to take a week of FMLA
leave because she was unable to cope at home after she was
taken off of her medications due to their side effects. R.
testified that her typical day consists of being home with
her two children. If she is having a bad day, her husband,
who works third shift, will take care of the children during
the day and work in the evening. R. 267. She indicated that,
while she struggles with depression three weeks out of the
month, she can moderately take care of herself. R. 262. As to
activities of daily living, Plaintiff testified that she does
not “wrap her head around cooking.” She does the
dishes, laundry, and cleans up the toys. R. 267. Plaintiff
indicated that she struggles to interact with her children
and coped by cleaning. Id. She testified that when
she has a manic episode, which usually lasts for a week, she
has a tendency to overspend and to seek attention from other
men. R. 269-70. She indicated that she would not be able to
work when she has either manic or depressive episodes because
she would be emotionally unstable. R. 270.
14-page decision dated March 1, 2017, the ALJ found Plaintiff
was not disabled. R. 218-31. Following the agency's
five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ concluded at
step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 13, 2013, the application
date. R. 220. At step two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, mood
disorder, ADHD, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Id. He noted that, while the record referred to
other impairments, including a traumatic brain injury,
hypothyroidism, and obesity, he found these conditions were
non-severe. R. 220-21. 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. 221.
summarizing the record, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of
work at all exertional levels but with the following
non-exertional limitations: “understand and carry out
no more than simple instructions; occasional decisionmaking
and occasional changes in a work setting; no production rate
or pace work; no contact with the public; and occasional
contact with coworkers and supervisors.” R. 222. With
these limitations, the ALJ found at step four that Plaintiff
had no past relevant work. R. 229. At step five, the ALJ
determined that there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform,
such as cleaner/housekeeper, order filler, and office helper.
R. 230. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. R. 231. The ALJ's decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner. Thereafter, Plaintiff commenced this
action for judicial review.
question before the court is not whether it agrees with the
Commissioner that Plaintiff is not disabled. Judicial 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 high.” Id.
Substantial evidence is “‘more than a mere
scintilla.' . . . It means-and means only-‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'” Id.
(quoting Consolidated Edison, 305 U.S. at 229).
an ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence in the
record, the ALJ may not ignore an entire line of evidence
that is contrary to the ruling.” Terry v.
Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing
Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir.
2009); Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th
Cir. 2004)). The ALJ must provide a “logical
bridge” between the evidence and conclusions.
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir.
2000). Given this standard, and because a reviewing court may
not substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ,
“challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence rarely
succeed.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737,
744 (7th Cir. 2005).
the ALJ is 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). 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)).
Assessment of ...