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Cencelewski v. Berryhill

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

March 28, 2017

KEVIN CENCELEWSKI, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE.

         Kevin 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.

         I. Background

         Mr. 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, [2] but 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.

         The ALJ 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;[3] 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.

         When 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.

         II. Standard of Review

         The 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 omitted).

         III. Discussion

         Mr. 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.

         A. Relevant Evidence

         Mr. 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.[4] 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).

         The ALJ 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.

         An ALJ 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 ...


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