United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
K. LaRue United States Magistrate Judge
on Judicial Review
Booe seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the Social Security Administration's denial of his
application for disability insurance benefits. The parties
have consented to the Magistrate Judge's jurisdiction.
For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision
will be reversed and remanded.
alleges that he has been unable to work since January 2009.
In May 2014, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing
by video conference at which Booe, represented by an
attorney, testified. A vocational expert (VE) also testified
at the hearing. Booe claims that he suffers from severe
impairments of low back pain that radiates down through his
buttocks and into his leg, depression, and sleep apnea. [R.
39.] He also suffers from hearing loss. His sleep apnea is
treated with a CPAP machine.
time of the hearing, Booe was 59 years old. He lived by
himself. He had been receiving food stamps but he was not
getting them at the time. [R. 35.] He was living off the
proceeds from the sale of property (valued at $175, 000) he
had inherited in 2005 and from cashing out his 401(k). [R.
35, 41-2.] He received a check for $13, 000 annually from the
sale of the property.
worked for 35 years at an aerosol manufacturing company. [R.
35-36.] His job was on the line and required him to lift and
dump bottles, to stand and walk a lot, and regularly lift
skids that weighed 100 pounds. [R. 36-37.] Booe testified
that he was fired from his job for missing too many days of
work during the winter, but he also said that he missed two
to three days each month because of illness or because of his
impairments. [R. 37.]
stated that he has suffered from lower back pain for several
years. He said that he could stand for 20 minutes before he
would have to sit down, sit 15 to 20 minutes before he would
have to get up, and walk a block before having to stop
because of back pain and shortness of breath. [R. 39-40.] He
thought he could lift and carry 10 to 20 pounds. He takes
naps, which help with his pain. He also takes painkillers,
including Tramadol, a narcotic used to treat moderate to
severe pain as well as medication for depression. His
medications cause him drowsiness. On a scale of 1 to 10, Booe
rated his pain 6 with medication and 8 without. [R. 40-41.]
In a typical day, he does some housework and mows the lawn,
using a riding mower. [R. 43-44.] He also tends to his
garden. [R. 44.] He said that his family doctor told him not
to do heavy lifting. [R. 46.]
to Booe, since the end of 2013, he has been seeing Dr. Elaine
Chappelle, M.D., and Tasha Lewis Stevens, a licensed clinical
social worker and therapist. [R. 38.] He said he received
ultrasound treatments before late 2013, but he could not
remember when. Although he had trouble hearing, he did not
wear hearing aids because he was never told to get them.
testified that Booe's past work was as a line operator,
which was heavy as he performed it, but is generally
performed at the medium exertional level. [Id.] She
also testified that a hypothetical individual with
impairments as described by the ALJ (no fine-hearing ability
or complex verbal communication; limited to simple, routine,
repetitive tasks; no written communication above a grade
school level; no lengthy or complex discussions required; no
more than simple decision making; no more than occasional and
minor changes in work setting; work expectations remain
unchanged; no direct public service work but can tolerate
brief and superficial interaction with the public, coworkers,
and supervisors), would be able to perform Booe's past
work as generally performed at the medium exertional level.
[R. 46-49.] The VE understood that medium level work meant
lifting no more than 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds
frequently, with no limitation on sitting, standing or
walking. [R. 50.]
issued a decision, finding that Booe met the insured
requirements of the Social Security Act through 2014 and had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 31,
2009, his alleged onset date. [R. 12.] The ALJ determined
that Booe suffers from limited hearing, a severe impairment,
and that he also has degenerative disc disease, supported by
x-ray evidence, depression, and sleep apnea, though none of
these other impairments were found “severe.” [R.
12, 20.] The ALJ also found that Booe's depressive
disorder “does not cause any severe limitations, beyond
those caused by his hearing difficulties[.]” [R. 14.]
The ALJ acknowledged that Ms. Lewis-Stevens had diagnosed
Booe with major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe
without psychosis. [R. 13-14 (citing Ex. 11F 2-4); R. 294.]
According to the ALJ, none of Booe's impairments meets or
medically equals the severity of a listed impairment. [R.
14.] The ALJ determined that Booe has the residual functional
capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional
levels with numerous nonexertional limitations and that given
his residual functional capacity and the VE's testimony,
he was capable of performing his past relevant work as a line
operator [R. 15, 22]. The ALJ concluded that Booe was not
disabled under the Social Security Act and denied his
application for disability insurance benefits. [R. 23.]
reviewing the ALJ's decision, the Court determines
whether it is supported by substantial evidence and whether
the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. Stepp v.
Colvin, 795 F.3d 711, 718 (7th Cir. 2015); Roddy v.
Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2013). The Court
does not reweigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in the
record, make credibility determinations, or substitute its
own judgment for that of the ALJ. See Stepp, 795
F.3d at 718; Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001
(7th Cir. 2004). An ALJ need not mention every piece of
evidence, Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th
Cir. 2012), but the ALJ must build an accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, Varga v.
Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015), and the
ALJ's decision must be internally consistent. See,
e.g., Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th
Cir. 2000); Rohan v. Chater, 98 F.3d 966, 971 (7th
Cir. 1998); Reed v. Colvin, Cause No. 3:15-cv-177,
2016 WL 3537194, at *4 (N.D. Ind. June 28, 2016).
errors in the ALJ's decision require remand in this case.
First, the ALJ initially found that Booe's depression
causes no more than minimal limitation in his ability to
perform basic work activities, that is, was not severe [R.
12; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c) (explaining
that a severe impairment “significantly limits your
physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities”)], but later concluded that Booe's
depressive disorder “does not cause any severe
limitations, beyond those caused by his hearing
difficulties.” [R. 14.] At best the ALJ's reasoning
is unclear; at worst, it is internally inconsistent. Either
way, a remand is necessary for adequate articulation of the
ALJ's reasoning. If Booe's depression or depressive
disorder was not severe, then by definition, it ...