United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
KELLY J. CHAVEZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
ANDREW P. RODOVICH, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the court on petition for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner filed by the plaintiff, Kelly J. Chavez, on June 19, 2014. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.
The plaintiff, Kelly J. Chavez, filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on November 16, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2007. (Tr. 9). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Chavez's application on June 23, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on December 15, 2011. (Tr. 9). Chavez subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on December 19, 2011. (Tr. 9). A hearing was held on December 10, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Yvonne K. Stam, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on February 21, 2013. (Tr. 9, 21). Vocational Expert (VE) Marie N. Kieffer, Kathy Lewis, Chavez's mother, and Chavez testified at the hearing. (Tr. 9). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).
At step one of the five step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Chavez had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 16, 2010, over three years after her alleged onset date of September 1, 2007. (Tr. 11). At step two, the ALJ determined that Chavez had the following severe impairments: obesity, migraine headaches, degenerative disc disease, acoustic neuroma, anxiety, and depression. (Tr. 11). At step three, the ALJ concluded that Chavez did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 11).
In determining whether Chavez had an impairment or combination of impairments that met the severity of one of the listed impairments, the ALJ first considered the Paragraph B criteria. (Tr. 11). The ALJ indicated that an impairment satisfies Paragraph B when the mental impairment results in at least two of the following:
marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.
(Tr. 11). Additionally, the ALJ defined a marked limitation as more than moderate but less than extreme and repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, as three episodes within one year or once every four months with each episode lasting at least two weeks. (Tr. 11).
The ALJ concluded that Chavez had a mild restriction in daily living activities. (Tr. 12). Chavez reported that she could care for her personal needs, care for her daughter and nephew including driving them to and from school, and perform some household work. (Tr. 12). The ALJ found those daily living activities consistent with the record as a whole and concluded that Chavez had a mild limitation in handling her daily activities independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. (Tr. 12).
The ALJ found that Chavez had moderate difficulties in social functioning. (Tr. 12). Chavez indicated that her shyness caused difficulty in getting along with others but that she lived with her parents and cared for her daughter and nephew. (Tr. 12). The ALJ determined that was consistent with the record and found that Chavez had moderate limitations interacting independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis with other people. (Tr. 12).
The ALJ found that Chavez had moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 12). Although Chavez reported that she completed word search puzzles, read novels, and could count change and use a checkbook or money order, tests during her psychological evaluation determined that she had moderate difficulty in this area, which the ALJ found consistent with the record. (Tr. 12). Therefore, the ALJ indicated that Chavez had moderate limitations in sustaining focus, attention, and concentration long enough to complete tasks commonly found in a work setting timely and appropriately. (Tr. 12).
The ALJ determined that Chavez had experienced no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. (Tr. 13). She defined episodes of decompensation as "exacerbations or temporary increases in symptoms or signs accompanied by loss of adaptive functioning, as manifested by difficulties in performing activities of daily living, maintaining social relationships, or maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace." (Tr. 13). The ALJ stated that the record provided little support that Chavez suffered any episodes of decompensation. (Tr. 13). Therefore, the ALJ found that Chavez did not satisfy Paragraph B because her mental impairments did not cause at least two marked limitations or one marked limitation and repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. (Tr. 13).
The ALJ also determined that Chavez did not meet the requirements for Paragraph C under Listing 12.04 or 12.06. (Tr. 13). The ALJ indicated that Chavez did not meet Listing 12.04 because she did not have repeated episodes of decompensation, a residual disease process, or an inability to function outside a highly supportive environment. (Tr. 13). Additionally, she stated that Chavez did not meet Listing 12.06 because Chavez did not demonstrate a complete inability to function independently outside her home. (Tr. 13).
The ALJ indicated that there was no specific listing criteria for headaches but stated that she considered that impairment under Listing 11.00. (Tr. 12). Additionally, she concluded that the medical evidence did not meet the requirements for a severe impairment. (Tr. 12). The ALJ determined that the medical evidence did not establish a nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis under Listing 1.04. (Tr. 12). Furthermore, she concluded that Chavez's back disorder did not prevent her from ambulating effectively under Listing 1.00(B)(2)(b). (Tr. 12).
The ALJ also stated there were no listing criteria in Appendix 1 for evaluating obesity impairments but that SSR 02-1p required her to consider the effects of obesity when determining whether Chavez had a severe medically determinable impairment, whether Chavez's impairments met or equaled any listing, and in determining the RFC. (Tr. 12). The ALJ noted that obesity may adversely affect the body, cause additional pain and limitation than from an impairment alone, and limit an individual's ability to sustain activity on a regular and continuing basis during a full time work schedule. (Tr. 12). The ALJ stated that she considered the effects of obesity in reaching her conclusions at the second through fifth steps of the evaluation process, although she found that no treating or examining medical source specifically attributed any additional or cumulative limitations to Chavez's obesity. (Tr. 12).
The ALJ then assessed Chavez's residual functional capacity as follows:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) in that the claimant is able to lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk in combination about 6 hours and sit about 6 hours with no additional limitations on the ability to push and pull. She is unable to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; is limited to only occasional stooping, kneeling and crouching; should avoid concentrated exposure to vibration; should avoid all exposure to hazards such as unguarded machinery and unprotected heights; is limited to unskilled, simple and routine tasks, with only a small number of tasks, in a relatively unchanging setting and process, with no fast pace; and with no more than brief and superficial contact with others.
(Tr. 13). The ALJ explained that in considering Chavez's symptoms she followed a two-step process. (Tr. 14). First, she determined whether there was an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment that was shown by a medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic technique that reasonably could be expected to produce Chavez's pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 14). Then, she evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Chavez's functioning. (Tr. 14). Additionally, the ALJ considered Chavez's subjective allegations, her prior work history, and the observations of non-medical third parties and treating and examining physicians. (Tr. 14).
Chavez has alleged that she suffered from a brain tumor, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, acoustic shwannoma, anxiety, dizzy spells, memory loss, degenerative disc disease, Raynaud's syndrome, and numbness in the hands and feet at a disabling level. (Tr. 14). Chavez has claimed that her migraines caused her to miss several days per month at her job at Plastech as a trimmer, that her factory job was too stressful, and that she had difficulty with small details. (Tr. 14). Chavez was laid off from her factory job along with several other employees. (Tr. 14). She reported that her migraines had continued and that her migraine medication changed several weeks before the hearing. (Tr. 14). Despite taking medication, Chavez's migraines would last a few days. (Tr. 14). Additionally, her hands felt numb periodically and she had difficulty with her left knee due to a torn meniscus. (Tr. 14). However, ...