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Borzick v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

October 7, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Crystal Borzick 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 and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four.


         Borzick filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and an application for supplemental security income alleging disability beginning on June 12, 2012 due to anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, migraines, allergies, left arm numbness, left elbow and shoulder pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 272.) Borzick's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 16.) Borzick filed a request for a hearing and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on December 18, 2017. (Tr. 37-66.) Borzick testified at the hearing, as did Mary Andrews, a vocational expert. (Id. at 37.)

         In a written decision issued February 5, 2018, the ALJ found that Borzick had the following severe impairments: carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine headaches, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 18.) The ALJ further found that Borzick 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. 19- 20.) The ALJ found Borzick had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work, with the following limitations: occasionally handle and finger with the right dominant hand and frequently with the left hand; avoid exposure to vibration; occasional changes in a routine work setting; limited to simple and routine tasks, but not at a production pace; occasionally work with supervisors and coworkers, but never with the general public; and off-task up to ten percent of the workday. (Tr. 20-21.)

         The ALJ found Borzick capable of performing her past relevant work as a cleaner/housekeeping. (Tr. 28.) The ALJ alternatively found that given Borzick's age, education, work experience, and RFC, other jobs existed in significant No. in the national economy that she could also perform. (Id.) As such, the ALJ found that Borzick was not disabled from her alleged onset date until the date of the decision. (Tr. 29.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-6.)


         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

         Borzick argues the ALJ made multiple errors; however, each alleged error stems from the ALJ's failure to find Borzick's bipolar disorder to be a severe impairment at step two of the five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether an individual is disabled.

         At step two, the ALJ determines whether a claimant has one or more medically determinable physical or mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521. An impairment must result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques; thus, a physical or mental impairment must be established by objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source. Id. A plaintiff's statement of symptoms, a diagnosis, or a medical opinion alone will not establish the existence of an impairment. Id. After a medically determinable impairment is established, the ALJ then determines whether the impairment is severe. Id.

         It is unclear whether the ALJ even considered Borzick's bipolar disorder to be a medically determinable impairment. This was error. Borzick undoubtedly alleged disability due to bipolar disorder, among other physical and mental impairments. (Tr. 272.) The ALJ questioned Borzick about her treatment for bipolar disorder at the administrative hearing and Borzick testified that on a typical day, “[a]t any point in time, [her] bipolar can kick in, ” causing mood swings. (Tr. 49, 52.) Thus, the ALJ was aware that Borzick's bipolar disorder was at issue. Furthermore, the record indicates that Borzick was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with Janice Hubert, LMFT for her bipolar disorder between May and December 2015 and from February 2016 until September 2017. (Tr. 523-45, 595-607, 664- 94.) Borzick also treated with Nurse Practitioner Basil Maduka from August 2016 until November 2017 for management of her bipolar medications, including Lamictal and amitriptyline. (Tr. 68, 702-16.) Beyond the stated diagnosis of ...

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