United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE.
Cencelewski seeks judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications for
disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security
Income under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
423 and 1381 et seq. The court has jurisdiction over
this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3). For the reasons that follow, the court reverses
the Commissioner's decision and remands this case for
further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Cencelewski filed applications for Disability Insurance
Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging
disability due to posttraumatic stress disorder, depressive
disorder, anxiety disorder, sleep apnea, chronic pain,
hearing loss, gastrointestinal problems, migraine headaches,
and chronic back pain. His application was denied initially,
on reconsideration, and following an administrative hearing
at which Mr. Cencelewski and a vocational expert testified.
Based on the record before her, the ALJ found that Mr.
Cencelewski had severe impairments, including posttraumatic
stress disorder, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, sleep
apnea, chronic pain, and tinnitus with hearing loss,
concluded that none of Mr. Cencelewski's impairments met
or medically equaled any of the impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1.
decided that Mr. Cencelewski had the residual functional
capacity to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with
limitations; and that he couldn't perform his past
relevant work, but could do other jobs, such as after hours
housekeeper/cleaner, office helper, and production sorter.
The ALJ concluded Mr. Cencelewski wasn't disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act and wasn't
entitled to benefits.
the Appeals Council denied Mr. Cencelewski's request for
review, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of
the Commissioner. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107
(2000); Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th
Cir. 2010). This appeal followed.
Standard of Review
issue before the court isn't whether Mr. Cencelewski is
disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision that he wasn't disabled. 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 1155, 1160 (7th Cir.
2010). 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 instead must 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). While the ALJ isn't required “to address
every piece of evidence or testimony presented, 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 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). ALJs must
“sufficiently articulate their assessment of the
evidence to assure [the court] that they considered the
important evidence and to enable [the court] to trace the
path of their reasoning.” Scott v. Barnhart,
297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations
Cencelewski argues that the ALJ made four errors that require
remand: (1) she didn't consider all relevant evidence in
adjudicating his claim; (2) she didn't consider the
aggregate effect of Mr. Cencelewski's impairments, (3)
her credibility determination was flawed, and (4) her
residual functional capacity assessment improperly omitted
restrictions related to his interaction with coworkers and
fatigue. Mr. Cencelewski asks the court to either reverse the
Commissioner's decision and award benefits or remand the
case for further proceedings.
Cencelewski argues that the ALJ erred by not considering all
relevant evidence when determining the limiting effects of
his mental impairments, including evidence regarding his
depressive symptoms and his Global Assessment of Functioning
(GAF) scores. Mr. Cencelewski contends that the ALJ
considered only the evidence that suggested he had
experienced improvement with regard to his mental
impairments, but ignored medical reports indicating his
symptoms of depression were worsening. The Commissioner says
the ALJ wasn't required to address every piece of
evidence in her decision. Citing Sims v. Barnhart,
309 F.3d 424, 429 (7th Cir. 2002).
addressed three 2014 psychological treatment reports: a
January 2014 report she noted “indicated that [Mr.
Cencelewski] was doing very well”, and two February
2014 reports, one describing Mr. Cencelewski's prognosis
as “excellent” and the other stating that he was
enjoying activities, with good motivation and energy levels.
She cited 2013 and 2014 medical reports to support her
opinion that Mr. Cencelewski was “doing well.”
But the ALJ didn't address medical reports from that
period contradicting her opinion. She didn't address an
April 2014 report from Mr. Cencelewski's treating
psychiatrist indicating Mr. Cencelewski had worsening
depressive symptoms. Nor did she address reports from
November 2013, January 2014, or April 2014 by his treating
psychologist noting that his Beck Depression Inventory score
indicated severe depression.
isn't “permitted to ‘cherry-pick' from
[mixed treatment records] to support a denial of benefits,
” Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 740 (7th Cir.
2011), and “may not analyze only the evidence
supporting her ultimate conclusion while ignoring the
evidence that undermines it.” Moore v. Colvin,
743 F.3d 1118, 1123 (7th Cir. 2014). See also Berger v.
Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008) (“the
ALJ must rest its denial of benefits on adequate evidence
contained in the record and must explain why contrary
evidence does not persuade”). “An ALJ may not