United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
JENNIFER J. MILLER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Jennifer Miller, who is currently representing herself, filed
this action for judicial review of a decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for a
period of disability and disability insurance benefits under
Title II. Miller contends that the decision of the
administrative law judge (ALJ) is flawed and requires remand
for two reasons: (1) the ALJ improperly gave less weight to
the opinions of Marya Liechti, Kristin Ovadal, and Kristin
Gage and (2) the opinions of Dr. Steve Krawiec, Dr. Edmund
Musholt, and Dr. Robert Starace do not support the ALJ's
residual functional capacity (RFC) findings. For the reasons
that follow, the decision of the Commissioner will be
filed an application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits on August 6, 2014. R. 13. She
listed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic anxiety
disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety
disorder, and depression as the conditions that limited her
ability to work. R. 241. After her application was denied
initially and on reconsideration, Miller requested a hearing
before an ALJ. On July 10, 2017, ALJ Jeffry Gauthier
conducted a video hearing where Miller, who was represented
by counsel, and a vocational expert (VE) testified. R.
time of the hearing, Miller lived at home with her daughter,
who was 10 years old. R. 47. She testified that her only
source of income was survivor's benefits related to the
death of her husband and that she receives food assistance
and health insurance from the State. R. 48. Miller testified
that she has a bachelor's degree in organizational
administration and that she started, but did not finish, a
master's program. R. 50-53. She previously worked at
Randstad, Avon, and Associated Bank. R. 54-56.
testified that PTSD, anxiety, and depression are the
conditions that render her disabled and unable to work. R.
50-75. She stated that her PTSD was caused by her emotionally
and physically abusive husband, R. 59, 61, and the sexual
abuse she endured by the child of a family friend when she
was four years old, R. 63-64. Miller testified that she has
episodes of depression every few months that last three to
four days. R. 73-74. She stated that she takes lorazepam and
clonazepam, and while those medications do not help her
function, they mitigate the anxiety and physical symptoms
caused by her anxiety. R. 66-68. She also stated that she has
participated in weekly counseling over the past few years. R.
asked about her fibromyalgia, Miller stated that it does not
limit her ability to work. R. 80. Miller testified that her
fibromyalgia prevents her from walking or standing for long
periods of time but noted that standing is better than
sitting. She testified that her fibromyalgia stems from her
severe anxiety and that her symptoms cause her to get dizzy,
limit her ability to walk, and create difficulty sleeping.
Id. Miller stated she generally sleeps five hours a
night but less if she has nightmares. She reported
experiencing nightmares two times a week. R. 89-91. Miller
stated that she takes amitriptyline to help with her sleep.
her activities of daily living, Miller reported that she has
her driver's license and drives to appointments, the
grocery store, and her parents' house. R. 49. She
testified that she can function so long as she limits her
world by minimizing trips outside of the home or going to the
store at times when it will not be busy. R. 81. Miller stated
that she volunteered in her daughter's classroom on an
as-needed basis, spends some time sewing and painting, and
walks her daughter to school. R. 50, 82-83. She stated that
she avoids contact with the public and avoids physical
contact with men. R. 89.
fourteen-page decision dated October 4, 2017, the ALJ
determined that Miller is not disabled. R. 13-26. The
ALJ's decision followed the five-step sequential process
for determining disability prescribed by the Social Security
Administration (SSA). At step one, the ALJ found that Miller
met the insured status requirements of the Social Security
Act through December 31, 2018, and had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since May 13, 2018, the alleged
onset date. R. 15. At step two, the ALJ concluded Miller has
the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, depression,
anxiety, and PTSD. At step three, the ALJ found that Miller
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 15-17.
next assessed Miller's RFC and found that she can perform
light work subject to the following limitations:
She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can
occasionally climb ramps or stairs. She cannot work at
unprotected heights or around moving mechanical parts. The
claimant cannot operate a motor vehicle in a place of work.
With regard to understanding, remembering and carrying out
instructions, she can perform simple, routine, and repetitive
tasks, but not at a production rate pace (e.g. assembly line
work). With regard to use of judgment in the workplace, she
can make simple work-related decisions. The claimant is
capable of occasional interaction with the public and
coworkers and frequent interaction with supervisors. She can
tolerate occasional changes in a routine work setting. In
addition to normally scheduled breaks, she will be off task
less than 10% of the time during an 8-hour workday.
R. 17. At step four, the ALJ concluded Miller would be unable
to perform past relevant work but would be able to perform
the following occupations: mail clerk, marker, and office
helper. R. 24-25. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Miller is
not disabled. R. 26. The Appeals Council denied Miller's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner.
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). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind could accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Schaaf v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869,
874 (7th Cir. 2010). 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 v. Astrue, 662 F.3d
805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011). The ALJ must provide a
“logical bridge” between the evidence and
conclusions. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872
(7th Cir. ...