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Harris v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 15, 2020

ZYKITA L. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. DUFFIN U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Zykita Harris alleges she has been disabled since January 1, 2015, due to depression, lupus, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, stomach pain, and body pain. (Tr. 84, 366.) In July 2014 she applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Tr. 330-42.) After her applications were denied initially (Tr. 201-26) and upon reconsideration (Tr. 227-72), a hearing was held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) on June 1, 2017 (Tr. 49-85). On December 20, 2017, the ALJ issued a written decision, concluding that Harris was not disabled. (Tr. 22-44.) The Appeals Council denied Harris's request for review on October 11, 2018. (Tr. 1-4.) 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 Harris “has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2015, the alleged onset date.” (Tr. 27.)

         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 Harris “has the following severe impairments: systemic lupus erythematosus, anxiety disorder, and depression.” (Tr. 27.)

         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 twelve- month 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 Harris “does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments.” (Tr. 28.)

         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 Harris has the RFC

to perform light work . . . except she is limited to occasional climbing of ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps or stairs and occasional balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, or crawling; she is limited to unskilled work performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; she must be allowed to be off task 10% of the workday in addition to regularly scheduled breaks; she is limited to no interaction with the public and occasional interaction with coworkers including supervisors; and she is limited to work allowing individually performed tasks.

(Tr. 29-30.)

         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 Harris was “unable to perform any past relevant work.” (Tr. 36.)

         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 [Harris's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Harris] can perform.” (Tr. 37.) In reaching that conclusion, the ALJ relied on testimony from a vocational expert (VE) who testified that a hypothetical individual of Harris's age, education, work experience, and RFC could perform the requirements of a food preparation worker, mail clerk, laundry worker, hand packer, inspector/sorter, and hand stock and material mover. (Tr. 37-38.)

         After finding that Harris could perform work in the national economy, the ALJ concluded that Harris “has not been under a disability . . . from January 1, 2015, through the date of this decision.” (Tr. 38.)

         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 ...


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