United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, CHIEF JUDGE
Gotoimoana Summers appeals the Social Security
Administration's decision to deny her application for
disability insurance benefits. An administrative law judge
found that Summers was not disabled within the meaning of the
Social Security Act. Summers raises a number of challenges to
this determination, but I conclude that the ALJ's
decision was supported by substantial evidence. The decision
of the ALJ, therefore, will be affirmed.
was 51 years old at the time of her hearing. [DE 13 at
She was 5'5'' and weighed 289 pounds.
[Id.] She was unemployed, using her husband's
insurance, and did not have a driver's license.
[Id. at 55-56.] She testified that she completed the
12th grade, but required special education to do so.
[Id. at 56-57.] Prior to her claim of disability,
Summers had a 15 year record of consistent work as a
production line worker, assembler, packager, and injection
mold operator. [Id. at 73-74.] Most recently she
worked at Elkhart Product, where she worked from 2005, as an
assembler. [Id. at 59.] At the hearing, she
initially told the ALJ that the last day she worked was
February 24, 2012 and that she stopped working because she
had health issues and was hospitalized for three days, but
upon questioning by the ALJ, Summers admitted that she
actually was fired. [Id. at 58.]
little more than a month after losing her job at Elkhart
Product, on March 22, 2012, Summers filed an application for
disability benefits. Summers alleged an onset date of
February 24, 2012, the same date she was fired from her job.
After a hearing before an ALJ, Summers' claim was denied.
hearing, Summers testified along with a vocational expert.
Summers has a number of medical problems that she is dealing
with. Summers told the ALJ that she has a problem with her
lungs and has problems breathing and gets light headaches and
sometimes experiences dizziness and black outs. [Id.
at 63-64.] She later said that she gets anxiety attacks when
she has trouble breathing and her lungs close and that if she
hasn't had enough oxygen, she gets really bad headaches,
migraines, and dizziness, sometimes just passing out.
[Id. at 67-68.] She said she has migraines and that
she takes Tylenol for them. [Id. at 68.] Summers
also told the ALJ that she was taking “heart pills . .
. stress pills, depression - blood thinner medication . .
use[s] [her] nebulizer inhaler” twice a day, and uses
oxygen at night. [Id. at 64-65.] At the hearing,
Summers was using a cane and said that a doctor prescribed it
to her because she was having trouble walking around the
store and standing when she was trying to pick something up.
[Id. at 68-69.] Specifically, she said that her legs
are swollen and she has trouble walking. [Id. at
issued a decision denying benefits. [DE 13 at 25-42.] At Step
One, the ALJ found that Summers met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act, and that she has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 24,
2012, the alleged onset date. [Id. at 27.] At Step
Two, the ALJ concluded that Summers suffered from obesity, an
irregular heartbeat, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
asthma, sleep apnea, anxiety, and depression. [Id.
at 28.] At Step Three, the ALJ determined that these various
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of
one of the listed impairments. [Id. at 28.]
the ALJ found that Summers has the residual functional
capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
404.1567(b). Here is Summers' RFC as determined by the
lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling up to 20 pounds
occasionally and up to ten pounds frequently; standing and/or
walking (with normal breaks) for approximately six hours per
eight-hour workday; sitting (with normal breaks) for
approximately six hours per eight-hour workday; occasional
climbing of ramps and stairs, never climbing ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds; occasional balancing, stooping, crouching,
kneeling, and crawling; and, should avoid concentrated
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, and
irritants such as fumes, odors, dust and gases, poorly
ventilated areas, and chemicals. The claimant is limited to
work in a low stress job, defined as requiring only
occasional decision making and only occasional changes in the
work setting. The claimant is limited to superficial
interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and the public, with
superficial interaction defined as occasional and casual
contact not involving prolonged conversation or discussion of
involved issues. Contact with supervisors still involves
necessary instruction. The claimant is unable to engage in
complex or detailed tasks, but can perform simple, routine,
and repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work, and she
is able to sustain and attend to task throughout the workday.
[Id. at 31.] Given this RFC, and based on the
testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that
Summers is capable of performing past relevant work as an
assembler and, in the alternative, concluded that there are
other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Summers also can perform. [Id. at
makes five arguments as to how the ALJ erred, and I will
evaluate each of them below, but in doing so I must keep in
mind that judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
is limited. If an ALJ's findings of fact are supported by
“substantial evidence, ” then they must be
sustained. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Overman
v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). In making
a substantial evidence determination, I must review the
record as a whole, but I can't re-weigh the evidence or
substitute my judgment for that of the ALJ. Id.
first objects to the RFC determination because the ALJ did
not include a limitation to work that avoided exposure to
machines, tools and sharp objects. The argument goes that
because Summers is on anti-coagulation medications, if she
were punctured at work, she would be a substantial bleeding
risk. [DE 25 at 21-24.] Summers claims that her past relevant
work as an assembler, which the ALJ found she was capable of
doing, would expose her to “machines, tools, sharp
objects etc.” and that “[t]he failure to include
the limiting effects of this impairment in a hypothetical and
the consequent RFC requires remand.” [Id. at
argument is unpersuasive and lacks any basis in the evidence.
In making her determination, the ALJ relied upon all of the
evidence of record including Summers' testimony, the
opinions of examining and reviewing doctors, and the clinical
evidence. The record was devoid of any evidence to support
Summers' assertion that her drug regimen places her at
risk of severe bleeding episodes. Indeed, the evidence is to
the contrary. In November 2012, the state medical
consultant-Dr. Whitley-opined that Summers had the RFC to
tolerate unlimited exposure to hazards such as
machinery and heights. [DE 13 at 358.] The ALJ ultimately
agreed with Dr. Whitley that the evidence did not support
additional limitations for hazards [DE 30 at 5], but she
nonetheless took a more conservative route when she
determined that Summers should have a more restrictive RFC
than the medium exertional level outlined in Dr.
Whitley's opinion. In support of her argument, Summers