United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ALICE F. JORDAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
TIM A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.
The parties appeared by counsel February 24, 2014, for an oral argument on Plaintiff's appeal of her denial of disability benefits. Set forth below is the Magistrate Judge's recommended decision issued from the bench following that argument. This ruling recommends that the ALJ's determination be reversed and that this case be remanded for further proceedings. Any objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation shall be filed with the Clerk in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Failure to file timely objections within fourteen days after service shall constitute waiver of subsequent review absent a showing of good cause for such failure.
THE COURT: Okay. With the benefit of the oral argument and the briefing, I will now render my recommended decision in this case.
There are four issues presented for review. The first is whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Jordan was not impaired due to chronic back, leg and left shoulder pain. Second is whether the ALJ erred in failing to provide a medical advisor to testify on whether Jordan's combined impairments medically equaled Listing 1.04. The third is whether the ALJ erred in her credibility determination. And the fourth is whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Jordan could perform past relevant work.
By way of background, Jordan alleges disability beginning on February 20th, 2009. On October 28th, 2011, an ALJ found her not to be disabled, and the Appeals Council affirmed that decision. This Court must uphold the ALJ's decision if substantial evidence supports her findings. Terry versus Astrue, 580 F.3d 471 at 475, Seventh Circuit, 2009. If the evidence contradicts the ALJ's conclusions, the ALJ must confront that evidence and explain why it was rejected. That's the Terry case again at 580 F.3d at 475.
The ALJ, however, need not mention every piece of evidence so long as she builds a logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion. Pepper versus Colvin, 712 F.3d 351 at 362, Seventh Circuit, 2013.
Jordan alleges that the ALJ erred in finding that Jordan was not disabled due to chronic back, leg and left shoulder pain because she based her opinion on her lay-person expertise, ignoring or rejecting relevant evidence of disability. Jordan focuses her first argument on the ALJ's failure to discuss her arthritis. The medical records have several reports that note her arthritis and prescribe Vicodin, Skelaxin, and Tylenol to relieve some of her reported pain. That's in the record at pages 248, 252, 256, 258 and 261.
From September 14, 2009, to March 22nd, 2010, her treating physicians at Saint Vincent Family Medicine noted arthritis as "an active problem" and prescribed a combination of pain medication that included Vicodin. Yet the ALJ notes that Jordan was only ever prescribed Tylenol and thus concludes that her reported pain has only caused a minimal effect on her ability to perform work-related activities. That's in the record at 14. Substantial evidence in the record contradicts the ALJ's finding. The ALJ not only fails to provide an explanation as to why she rejected the information, but she fails to even mention this critical evidence.
The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's findings are supported by Drs. Wenzler and Montoya; however, these physicians are barely even mentioned in her decision and apparently not even by name. No meaningful discussion or analysis of their findings is provided, yet the ALJ claims she gave them significant weight. That's in the record at page 18.
Even more significant is that neither of these physicians even discuss Jordan's arthritis. Even if the ALJ did rely on these state-agency physicians in making her determination, she failed to explain why she did not give controlling weight to Jordan's physicians, who consistently note, among other things, arthritis is a problem for Jordan.
The Commissioner further argues that the ALJ's RFC finding is consistent with the medical evidence and that it has accommodated for Jordan's pain and is more restrictive than the state-agency physicians' recommendations? Moreover, the Commissioner argues there is no evidence from Jordan's treating doctors on limitations in her ability to stand, lift, sit or engage in postural activities.
The record reveals that the ALJ's RFC finding is inconsistent with Jordan's medical evidence. Jordan's treating physician, Dr. Harsha, found that Jordan was only able to walk for 10 to 15 minutes and could only stand for 10 to 15 minutes. That's in the record at 248.
By July of 2010, about three months after the date of last insured, Dr. Harsha had prescribed Jordan Vicodin twice a day, and she was homebound receiving home care as well as physical therapy to help her walk. That's in the record at pages 312 through 318.
Yet the ALJ found Jordan not only capable of working but capable of performing a light range of work, including standing and walking over six hours in an eight-hour workday and lifting and carrying 20 pounds occasionally with frequent ...