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Thompson v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 27, 2019

ANGELA LOUISE THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          NANCY JOSEPH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Angela Louise Thompson seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her claim for supplemental security income 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 consideration pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four.

         BACKGROUND

         Thompson filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on November 10, 2014. (Tr. 22.) She alleges disability beginning on November 27, 2009 due to degenerative joint disease of the right knee (status post anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction), degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with left shoulder pain, obesity, and peripheral edema. (Tr. 22, 24.) Thompson’s applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 88–98, 100–13.) Thompson filed a request for a hearing and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge on March 30, 2017. (Tr. 41–84.) Thompson testified at the hearing, as did a vocational expert. (Id.)

         In a written decision of November 1, 2017, the ALJ found that Thompson had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the right knee (status post anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction), degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine with left shoulder pain, obesity, and peripheral edema. (Tr. 24.) He also found that she had the non-severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the left knee, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), adjustment reaction disorder, and anxiety. (Id.) The ALJ further found that Thompson 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. 26–27.) The ALJ found that Thompson had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(a) except never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climbing ramps and stairs; occasionally reaching overhead on the left; and must be permitted to use a cane for stability when ambulating. (Tr. 27.)

         The ALJ found that Thompson could not perform her past relevant work as a cashier. (Tr. 33.) However, the ALJ found that considering Thompson’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Thompson can perform. (Tr. 34.) Therefore, the ALJ found Thompson not disabled. (Tr. 34.) The ALJ’s decision became the Commissioner’s final decision when the Appeals Council denied Thompson’s request for review. (Tr. 2–4.)

         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)).

         ANALYSIS

         Thompson argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to find that Thompson’s impairments met or equaled Listing 1.02A; (2) relying on flawed credibility findings; (3) improperly assessing the opinion evidence in the record; and (4) failing to account for non-severe impairments in the RFC determination. I will address each argument in turn.

         1. Listing 1.02A

         Thompson argues that the ALJ erred in finding that Thompson’s impairments did not meet or equal Listing 1.02A. (Docket # 12 at 11–22.) Thompson asserts that the ALJ applied the wrong legal standard by improperly limiting his consideration to her need for a wheelchair, and wrongly found that she had no gross anatomical deformity and no difficulty with ambulation. (Id.)

         The claimant 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 claimant must present medical findings that are at least equal in severity and duration to the criteria of any listed impairment. Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530–31 (1990) (citing Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 83–19 and 20 C.F.R. § 416.926(a)).

         The ALJ found that Thompson did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled Listing 1.02. (Tr. 26.) At the time of Thompson’s hearing, Listing 1.02A read as follows:

Major dysfunction of a joint(s) (due to any cause): Characterized by gross anatomical deformity (e.g., subluxation, contracture, bony or fibrous ankylosis, instability) and chronic joint pain and stiffness with signs of limitation of motion or other abnormal motion of the affected joint(s), and findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging ...

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