Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Bishop v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 7, 2016

JANE A. BISHOP, Plaintiff,


          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge.

         Jane Bishop seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. The court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The court reverses and remands this case to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings.

         Ms. Bishop applied for disability insurance benefits and an administrative law judge decided that Ms. Bishop isn't disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Counsel denied Ms. Bishop's request for review. This appeal followed.

         Ms. Bishop awoke one day with back pain that she testified prevented her from sitting or standing for extended periods of time and from doing all but basic household chores. Ms. Bishop already suffered from depression and anxiety, which worsened as her pain and immobility encumbered her.

         Applying the five-step evaluation of disability described under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ found that: 1) Ms. Bishop isn't engaged in substantial gainful activity; 2) Ms. Bishop has a severe impairment - degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; 3) Ms. Bishop doesn't have an impairment that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and 4) Ms. Bishop has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work and is capable of her previous work as a receptionist, reservations agent, medical secretary, or medical transcriptionist. Having found that Ms. Bishop could perform her previous work, the ALJ didn't need to consider whether she could perform any work at all in the national economy (the fifth stage of the analysis).

         The issue before the court isn't whether Ms. Bishop is disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that she isn't. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011); Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d at 1160. In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the court can't reweigh the evidence, make independent findings of fact, decide credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner, Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009); Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 434-435 (7th Cir. 2000), but it “will conduct a critical review of the evidence, considering both the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that detracts from, the Commissioner's decision.” Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). The ALJ isn't required “to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, but he must provide a ‘logical bridge' between the evidence and the conclusions so that [the court] can assess the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and afford the claimant meaningful judicial review.” Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d at 1160. The ALJ hasn't done so in this case.

         The ALJ's analysis is defective at his step four assessment of Ms. Bishop's residual functional capacity (the most that Ms. Bishop can do despite her limitations). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(a)(1). To gauge Ms. Bishop's capacity for work, the ALJ needed to assess the existence and extent of her pain. In assessing pain, an ALJ first evaluates whether a claimant's impairments “could reasonably be expected to produce the individual's pain or other symptoms” and second, the severity of that pain, particularly the extent to which the claimant's “alleged functional limitations and restrictions due to symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence in the case record.” SSR 96-7p.[1] The ALJ determined that Ms. Bishop's testimony met the first part of this equation but not the second. (A.R. 17).

         Four parts of the ALJ's assessment lacked the necessary logical bridge: (1) the ALJ's decision to discount the weight of medical opinions from Ms. Bishop's treating physician; (2) the ALJ's decision not to include psychological ailments in his analysis; (3) the ALJ's determination that Ms. Bishop's statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms aren't credible; and (4) the conclusions about vocations available to Ms. Bishop based on the vocational expert's testimony.

         Under the “treating physician” rule, the ALJ must give more weight to opinions from treating sources than non-treating sources because of their ability “to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture” of a claimant's impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). If the ALJ finds that a treating source's opinion on the nature and severity of impairments “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence” in the record, the treating physician's opinion deserves “controlling weight.” Id.

         The ALJ's rationale for affording little weight to the opinion of treating physician Dr. David Miller opinion is perfunctory. The ALJ said Dr. Miller's opinion “lacks any degree of specificity with regard to any functional limitations or restrictions.” (A.R. 18). But Dr. Miller's letter is specific, saying that Ms. Bishop's “persistent, severe pain [ ] is rated as an 8-10 out of 10” and describing her “severe thoracolumbar scoliosis with resulting moderate to severe lumbar spinal stenosis.” (A.R. 347). The letter lists the various medications Ms. Bishop takes to manage her pain.

         Dr. Miller's notes support each conclusion in the letter. Despite the pain medications that Ms. Bishop was taking, notes from April 1, 2013 and March 8, 2013 show that Ms. Bishop still suffered from intense pain. (A.R. 354, 360). The medication improved the chronic pain, (A.R. 354, 360) but there's no indication it made her able to tolerate a work environment. The ALJ doesn't explain why Dr. Miller's conclusions should be discounted despite his ongoing and thorough treatment relationship with Ms. Bishop and the notes Dr. Miller provided to support his conclusions. The ALJ's decision to discount this opinion violates the regulation.

         Residual functional capacity analysis must include medically determinable impairments that aren't “severe.” § 404.1545(a)(2). The ALJ didn't discuss Ms. Bishop's depression and anxiety in this section even though he did so in his analysis of which impairments are “severe.” (A.R. 15). The record contains substantial evidence that Ms. Bishop's depression and anxiety aren't “severe” as defined under the act, but those conditions still exist and so the ALJ should have considered them to the extent they limit Ms. Bishop's residual functional capacity under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(c).

         There was no logical bridge between the evidence on the record and the ALJ's conclusion that Ms. Bishop's “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms aren't credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the residual functional capacity assessment.” (A.R. 17).

         An ALJ's credibility determinations “are entitled to special deference.” Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 703 (7th Cir. 2004). This is especially so because “[a]pplicants for disability benefits have an incentive to exaggerate their symptoms, and an administrative law judge is free to discount the applicant's testimony on the basis of other evidence in the case.” Johnson v. Barnhart, 449 F.3d 804, 805 (7th Cir. 2006). Despite this deference, the ALJ must still provide a ‚Äúlogical bridge ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.