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Prince v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

June 29, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Tim A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Milton Lue Prince appeals the Administrative Law Judge's denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits. Prince's appeal argues (1) the ALJ failed to correctly determine Prince's residual functional capacity based on the record; (2) the ALJ failed to give the correct deference and weight to the examining physician's findings; (3) the ALJ incorrectly evaluated the credibility of Prince's statements regarding pain; and (4) the ALJ committed harmful error by failing to investigate apparent conflicts between the testimony of the vocational expert and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. For the reasons set forth below, Prince's brief in support of appeal [Filing No. 15] is denied, and the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         II. Background

         Prince alleges her disability began on January 3, 2013. Her claim for benefits was denied originally and upon reconsideration. On December 2, 2014, following a hearing, the ALJ concluded Prince is not disabled.

         At step one, the ALJ found Prince has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of the disability. At step two, the ALJ found Prince suffered from multiple severe impairments, including cervical spine disorder associated with right arm pain, lumbar spine disorder associated with right hip pain, right ulnar disorder, depression, and anxiety. At step three, the ALJ found that the combination of impairments did not meet or equal a listing. At step four, the ALJ concluded Prince has the RFC to:

perform a full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except the claimant must avoid all climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolding and is limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. The claimant must not perform constant right upper extremity reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling tasks, and must not perform any overhead reaching tasks. Additionally, the claimant must avoid all dangerous work hazards (including unprotected heights and exposed machinery). Because of pain and mental health distractions preventing detailed decision-making, the claimant is limited to routine, uninvolved tasks not requiring a fast assembly quota pace.

[Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 17.] Using this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. [Id. at p. 22.] However, a VE testified that Prince can perform the work of an inspector/hand packager, assembly machine tender, or injection molding machine tender. [Id.] At step five, the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony to conclude Prince is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Prince's request for review, and this appeal followed.

         III. Standard of Review

         This Court reviews decisions of the ALJ deferentially, and must uphold it if supported by substantial evidence. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence requires only such evidence “as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120 (7th Cir. 2014). However, the ALJ may not ignore evidence contrary to her finding, and the ALJ must consider all of the relevant medical evidence. Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). In doing so, the ALJ should confront conflicting evidence and explain her reasons for rejection. Moore, 743 F.3d at 1123. However, this does not require the ALJ to mention every piece of evidence used to reach her conclusion. Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir. 2013). Instead, the ALJ's opinion must only use the evidence to the extent that it builds a logical bridge between the evidence and the conclusion. Id.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Mental Residual Functional Capacity Determination

         Prince argues the ALJ failed to adequately determine her RFC based on the mental health evaluations and findings. Prince asserts that the RFC fails to adequately include the finding of her deficiencies in concentration, pace, and persistence. [Filing No. 15 at ECF p. 21.] Prince contends the ALJ determination that she could work “routine, uninvolved tasks not requiring a fast assembly quota pace” is erroneous because she did not provide a detailed assessment of the evidence. [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 18.]

         The Commissioner argues the RFC reflecting Prince's mental health limitations is supported by substantial evidence, and includes a sufficient explanation by the ALJ. [Filing No. 21, at ECF p. 3.] The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's RFC determination evaluated and included all mental limitations described in the record. The Commissioner argues the RFC is sufficiently detailed and supported, and that Plaintiff is attempting to read restrictions into the record that never existed. [Filing No. 21, at ECF p. 4.]

         The ALJ's mental RFC is not erroneous. The RFC must describe the most work Prince is able to do despite her limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. Specifically, a mental RFC requires the ALJ to give a “detailed assessment of the individual's capacity to perform and sustain mental activities which are critical to work performance.” SSR 85-16. All limits on work-related activity resulting from mental impairments must be described in the mental RFC. Id. However, this does not require the ALJ to address every medical finding. O'Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010). It is sufficient for the ALJ to rely on a physician's narrative describing their findings as a mental RFC so long as the RFC adequately addresses their concerns. See Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 816 (7th Cir. 2015).

         In the RFC, the ALJ found Prince “has moderate limitations regarding concentration” and limited her to “routine, unskilled work not requiring a fast assembly quota pace.” [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 22.] The ALJ supported this determination with evidence provided by state agency psychological consultants, Dr. Hill and Dr. Neville, who provided detailed narrative descriptions of Prince's mental limitations. Specifically, Dr. Hill and Dr. Neville explained that Prince's “attention/concentration are moderately impacted but appear reasonable for semiskilled tasks.” [Filing No. 13-3, at ECF p. 12, 38.] Furthermore, both narratives found Prince could “relate on at least a superficial basis . . . with co-workers and supervisors” as well as ...

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