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McCollim v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 13, 2020

CHRISTAL MCCOLLIM, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. DUFFIN, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Christal Mccollim alleges she has been disabled since January 2, 2009, due to fibromyalgia, severe anemia, seronegative spondyloarthropathies, migraine headaches, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 72, 254.) In April 2015 she applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Tr. 222-34.) After her applications were denied initially (Tr. 70-107) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 108-46), a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on August 14, 2017 (Tr. 40-69). On February 27, 2018, the ALJ issued a written decision, concluding that Mccollim was not disabled. (Tr. 13-39.) The Appeals Council denied Mccollim's request for review on November 8, 2018. (Tr. 1-7.) This action followed. All parties have consented to the full jurisdiction of a magistrate judge (ECF Nos. 20, 21), and the matter is now ready for resolution.

         ALJ'S DECISION

         In determining whether a person is disabled an ALJ applies a five-step sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571-1576, 416.971-976. The ALJ found that Mccollim “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 2, 2009, the alleged onset date.” (Tr. 18.)

         The analysis then proceeds to the second step, which is a consideration of whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment or combination of impairments that is “severe.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). “In order for an impairment to be considered severe at this step of the process, the impairment must significantly limit an individual's ability to perform basic work activities.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). The ALJ concluded that Mccollim “has the following severe impairments: hemolytic anemia, obesity, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis or other severe spondyloarthropathies, benign hypermobility syndrome, migraine headaches, plantar fasciitis, degenerative disc disease, idiopathic kyphoscoliosis, anxiety disorder, and affective disorder.” (Tr. 18-19.)

         At step three, the ALJ determines whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 4, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926) (called “The Listings”). If the impairment or impairments meets or medically equals the criteria of a listing, and meets the twelvemonth duration requirement, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 416.909, the claimant is disabled. If the claimant's impairment or impairments is not of a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria set forth in a listing, the analysis proceeds to the next step. The ALJ found that Mccollim “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments.” (Tr. 19.)

         Between steps three and four, the ALJ must determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), “which is [the claimant's] ‘ability to do physical and mental work activities on a regular basis despite limitations from her impairments.'” Ghiselli v. Colvin, 837 F.3d 771, 774 (7th Cir. 2016) (quoting Moore, 743 F.3d at 1121). In making the RFC finding, the ALJ must consider all of the claimant's impairments, including impairments that are not severe. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529, 416.929; SSR 96-8p. In other words, the RFC determination is a function-by-function assessment of the claimant's “maximum work capability.” Elder v. Asture, 529 F.3d 408, 412 (7th Cir. 2008). The ALJ concluded that Mccollim has the RFC

to perform sedentary work . . . except occasionally using foot controls; frequently balancing, crouching, kneeling, and stooping; frequently climbing ramps and stairs; and never crawling or climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds. The claimant can frequently reach bilaterally, frequently reach overhead bilaterally, frequently handle bilaterally, frequently finger bilaterally, and frequently feel bilaterally. The claimant must avoid exposure to dangerous moving machinery or unprotected heights. The claimant is limited to understanding, carrying out and remembering no more than simple instructions; employed in a low stress job, defined as having only occasional decision-making required and only occasional changes in the work setting; and occasional interaction with the public. The claimant is allowed to sit or stand alternatively at will, provided she is off task no more than 10% of the work period.

(Tr. 21-22.)

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ at step four must determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the requirements of her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565, 416.965. The ALJ concluded that Mccollim “has no past relevant work.” (Tr. 31.)

         The last step of the sequential evaluation process requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant can do any other work, considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC. At this step, the ALJ concluded that, “[c]onsidering [Mccollim's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Mccollim] can perform.” (Tr. 31.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert (VE) who testified that a hypothetical individual of Mccollim's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the requirements of a sorter, a document preparer, and an order clerk. (Tr. 31-32.)

         After finding that Mccollim could perform work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Mccollim “has not been under a disability . . . from January 2, 2009, through the date of [his] decision.” (Tr. 32.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court's role in reviewing an ALJ's decision is limited. It does not look at the evidence anew and make an independent determination as to whether the claimant is disabled. Rather, the court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Moore, 743 F.3d at 1120. Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. at 1120-21 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Thus, it is possible that opposing conclusions both can be supported by substantial evidence. Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699 (7th Cir. 2004).

         It is not the Court's role to reweigh evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Moore, 743 F.3d at 1121. Rather, the court must determine whether the ALJ complied with his obligation to build an “accurate and logical bridge” between the evidence and his conclusion that is sufficient to enable a court to review the administrative findings. Beardsley v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 834, 837 (7th Cir. 2014); Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). “This deference is lessened, however, where the ALJ's findings rest on an error of fact or logic.” Thomas, 745 F.3d at 806. If the ALJ committed a material error of law, the court ...


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