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Prater v. Saul

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 15, 2020

Judy Lynn Prater, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Andrew M. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued December 17, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. l:18-cv-00204-WCL-SLC - William C. Lee, Judge.

          Before Ripple, Sykes, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Judy Prater applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits based on a variety of mental and physical impairments. An administrative law judge denied her application on the ground that her residual functional capacity ("RFC") allows her to perform limited sedentary work, and the district court affirmed. On appeal, Ms. Prater argues only that the RFC assessment is too vague about her need to alternate between sitting and standing. However, because the sit/stand limitation in the RFC assessment specifies that Ms. Prater may change positions as needed so long as she remains in position for at least thirty minutes at a time, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         A.

         Ms. Prater applied for benefits in 2015, alleging a disability onset date in April of that year. At the time of the administrative law judge's ("ALJ") decision two years later, Ms. Prater was a forty-seven-year-old woman who weighed about 400 pounds and stood five feet, four inches tall, which her doctor diagnosed as "morbid obesity." A.R. at 672. X-rays from 2015 showed that she suffered from mild to moderate degenerative joint disease in her feet and knees and mild to moderate degenerative disc disease in her spine. She was also diabetic and had a history of gout, which she treated with prescribed medication. On her application, Ms. Prater stated that at her last job she experienced pain and fatigue "all the time." A.R. at 220. She reported these symptoms to her doctors, but her examinations revealed generally normal findings despite her many diagnoses. None of her treating physicians offered an opinion that she must alternate between sitting and standing with any particular frequency, or at all.

         As part of the benefits application process, several state-agency physicians submitted reports about Ms. Prater's difficulties with standing or sitting for extended periods. She reported to Dr. H. M. Bacchus that she could sit for thirty to sixty minutes and stand for twenty minutes, and Dr. Bacchus concluded after an examination that Ms. Prater "appear[ed] to have limitations in regard[] to prolonged standing." A.R. at 456. Based on a review of the medical records, Dr. J. V. Corcoran opined that Ms. Prater could stand for a total of two hours and sit for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. Dr. Jerry Smartt also reviewed the medical records and agreed with Dr. Corcoran's assessment.

         B.

         1.

         After her application was denied, Ms. Prater requested a hearing before an ALJ. Ms. Prater testified that at her last job working in a factory, after about an hour she would lose her breath, and her feet, legs, and back would start to hurt. After she stopped working, she experienced about the same level of pain in her back and legs. The pain in her feet, however, worsened. When she was on her feet for more than twenty minutes, Ms. Prater said, the pain in all three areas would increase. She testified that, because of the pain, she could either stand or sit for only twenty minutes at a time.

         A vocational expert ("VE") also testified at the hearing. The ALJ asked the VE about the availability of work for a hypothetical individual with the same vocational background, education, and age as Ms. Prater, who was limited to sedentary work with various restrictions on lifting, carrying, climbing, driving, and more. Further, this person could "stand and walk no more than two hours of an eight-hour day [and] remain seated for the rest of the day." A.R. at 72. The person also "would need to change positions in the course of the day" but "could remain in place for at least thirty minutes” "whether it's sitting or standing." Id. The VE answered that such a person could not do any of Ms. Prater's past jobs but could perform other jobs that are available in the national economy. It would not be "acceptable in competitive employment/' however, for someone to need to alternate ...


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