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Enfelt v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 23, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Rachel Enfelt commenced this civil action for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for supplemental security income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Enfelt contends that the administrative law judge's (ALJ's) decision, which became final after the Appeals Council denied review, R. 1-6, is subject to reversal on five grounds. These grounds include: (1) the ALJ's listing discussion failed to comport with the Act; (2) the ALJ erroneously relied on Enfelt's activities of daily living; (3) the ALJ failed to include a function-by-function residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment; (4) the ALJ erroneously relied on the vocational expert's (VE's) testimony; and (5) the ALJ failed to account for Enfelt's moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace (CPP) in the RFC assessment. For the reasons provided below, the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.


         Enfelt filed an application for SSI on February 25, 2014, alleging disability beginning on November 13, 2013. After her claim was denied both initially and upon reconsideration, Enfelt filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ. ALJ Guila Parker conducted a video hearing on February 1, 2017, at which Enfelt, who was represented by counsel, and a VE testified. R. 34-63. At the time of the hearing, Enfelt was thirty-seven years old and lived in a duplex with her teenage daughter. R. 39-40. Enfelt's mother and three of her sons, one eighteen and the others twelve-year-old twins, would regularly visit her, though they did not stay with her full-time. R. 40-41.

         At the hearing, Enfelt testified about her employment after November 13, 2013, the date she allegedly became disabled. R. 41. Enfelt testified that she worked at Woodlands Senior Park, an assisted living facility in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where she helped set up tables, pour drinks, and put food on plates, a position she left after two to three weeks because she found it too difficult to work independently. R. 42. When asked about her employment at Opportunities, Inc. and Wisco Partners, she testified that she does not remember those jobs, although she speculated they may be related to job coaching through “DVR.” R. 41-43. Enfelt also testified that she tried pet grooming and factory work but stopped because she could not handle the pace or remember the tasks that needed to be performed. R. 49-52.

         When asked to identify her biggest struggle with full-time work, Enfelt testified that her learning disability makes it difficult for her to concentrate, work at a fast pace, and remember things. R. 43. She testified that she struggled with reading, writing, and dealing with money. Id. She also testified that she suffers from anxiety, which is triggered when she is on her own and does not know what to do and the symptoms of which include panicking, becoming shaky and “flushy, ” and leading her to walk away. R. 43-44. She also claimed to suffer a bit of depression because her disability prevents her from doing things, such as adequately caring for her children. R. 44.

         Describing her leisure activities, Enfelt testified that she and her teenage daughter watch movies at home, take care of their dog, and go shopping at the grocery store and mall. R. 45. Enfelt also watches movies at her place with a couple friends. R. 46. Enfelt testified that she sometimes goes out to eat with her parents and that she attends family gatherings. Id. Regarding household chores, Enfelt testified that she receives help from her mother in paying bills, but she is able to manage her personal care, make frozen T.V. dinners, share laundry responsibilities with her daughter, and change her bed sheets regularly. R. 47-48. When driving, Enfelt sticks to familiar roads within city limits and maintains reasonable speeds because she will panic if moving too quickly. R. 54.

         In a thirteen-page written decision dated April 10, 2017, the ALJ concluded that Enfelt was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act since February 25, 2014, the application date. R. 15, 27. The ALJ applied the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) five-step sequential evaluation process. At step one, the ALJ determined that Enfelt had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 25, 2014. R. 17. At step two, the ALJ found that Enfelt had the following severe impairments: cognitive disorder, adjustment disorder, and a learning disability. Id. At step three, the ALJ determined that Enfelt did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 18. After reviewing the record, the ALJ concluded that Enfelt had the RFC to

perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but is restricted to never working around dangerous moving machinery. The claimant is also limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks performed in a low stress job (defined as one that requires no more than occasional work-related decisions and changes in the work setting), in a position that requires no more than occasional interaction with the public, with no production rate pace (such as assembly line work) or job tasks that require a GED Mathematical Development higher than 01 as defined in the DOT. Furthermore, the claimant would require that instructions be repeated at least twice daily (or tasks be demonstrated at least twice daily) and her work checked at least once daily during the first week of employment.

R. 21. At step four, the ALJ noted that Enfelt had no past relevant work. R. 26. However, the ALJ determined at step five that there exist jobs in the national economy in significant numbers that Enfelt could perform, such as commercial cleaner (janitor), hospital cleaner, or laundry laborer. R. 26-27. After the ALJ's decision that Enfelt was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act became final, Enfelt filed this action for judicial review.


         The question before the court is not whether it agrees with the Commissioner's conclusion that the 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).

         “Although 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).

         Additionally, 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)).


         A. Step Three ...

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