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Page v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

September 22, 2016

BEVERLY PAGE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         An administrative law judge denied Beverly Page's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. Page argues, among other things, that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because she erred in step three by finding that Page's impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment. I agree with Page. Because the ALJ failed to adequately address whether Page's back problems and/or combined impairments meet or equal a listed impairment at step three, I will remand the case for further analysis and development of the record.

         BACKGROUND

         At the time of Page's hearing before the ALJ on October 24, 2013, she was a 46-year-old high school graduate who stood 5'3'' tall and weighed 108 pounds. (DE 12 at 55.) She was unemployed and last worked in June 2009, when she quit a four-year stint in a factory inspecting mobile homes. (Id. at 57.) Prior to that, she had worked as a line worker, a painter, a cleaner, a spot welder, a production assembler, a forklift driver, a group leader, and a machine operator. (Id. at 29, 62.)

         Page stopped working in June 2009 because she “kept getting worse, the breathing and trying to do things” and because “they just kept sending [her] for more testing and more things going on.” (Id. at 57.) She filed for disability benefits and supplemental security income in 2012 alleging an onset date of June 25, 2009. (Id. at 169-70.) At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Page and from a vocational expert. (Id. at 53.) Page testified that she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, fibromyalgia, tension headaches, panic attacks, carpal tunnel syndrome, and pain between her shoulder blades and in her neck, elbows, wrists, lower back, hips/posterior, and knees. (Id. at 62-80.) She also testified that she had trouble reaching above her head and in front of her, numbness and weakness in her hands, difficulty walking for any sustained period because of her COPD, tingling and burning in her arms, and weakness in her legs, and difficulty sitting for sustained periods because of pain in her hips. (Id. at 62-63, 69-70, 79.) Page also told the ALJ that she was taking prescription medication for fibromyalgia, COPD, asthma, pain, and anxiety/depression and that she was taking over the counter medication for her tension headaches. (Id. at 66-69, 76.)

         The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (Id. at 23-50.) The ALJ found that Page met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that she has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 25, 2009, the alleged onset date. (Id. at 25.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that Page had the following severe impairments: COPD/asthma, fibromyalgia, cervical spondylosis (neck arthritis), depression, and panic disorder without agoraphobia. (Id.) The ALJ also found that Page suffered from tension headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome but that they are non-severe impairments. (Id. at 25-26.) At step three, the ALJ concluded that Page does not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling a listed impairment, including, most relevant to this appeal, Listing 3.02 (chronic pulmonary insufficiency) and the section 1.01 listings (musculoskeletal impairments). (Id.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Page had the capacity to perform “sedentary work, ” as defined in the regulations, but with the following limitations:

only occasional climbing of ramps/stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling and crawling and never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant also needs to avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritations (i.e. fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poorly ventilated areas), extreme cold/heat/humidity, hazards (i.e. unprotected heights and dangerous unguarded machinery), bright and/or flashing lights and very loud noise.

(Id. at 28-29.) In addition, the ALJ found mental health limitations, specifically:

the claimant retains the capacity to perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks involving low stress jobs consistent with unskilled work and [to] sustain and [] attend to such tasks throughout the workday, but cannot perform complex or detailed tasks. Definition of the term low stress jobs is no more than occasional decision-making or more than occasional changes in the work setting.

(Id. at 29.) At step five, the ALJ found that Page could not perform any past relevant work but that there was a sufficient number of jobs in the national economy that she could perform. (Id. at 41.)

         The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 6-9.) Page timely sought review of that decision by filing this case.

         DISCUSSION

         Page challenges two components of the ALJ's step three analysis. (DE 19 at 15-19.) At step three, a claimant is presumed disabled and entitled to benefits, if she shows she has an impairment that meets or equals the criteria for an impairment found in the Listing of Impairments or if her “impairment is accompanied by symptoms that are equal in severity to those described in a specific listing.” Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1526(a)). In determining whether a claimant's condition meets or equals the criteria for a listed ...


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