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Anglemyer v. Berryhill

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

August 15, 2017


v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jamie Anglemyer applied for social security disability benefits, arguing that his various physical and mental conditions combined to prevent him from maintaining any employment. However, an administrative law judge found that he retained the capacity to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers, so the Commissioner denied his application. The administrative law judge wrote a thorough and detailed decision, but the Court finds that the decision failed to adequately address the effects of Mr. Anglemyer's limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace. Accordingly, the Court reverses and remands for further proceedings.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Jamie Anglemyer worked for a number of years as a welder. However, he has not worked since 2008, and he claims that his various health conditions leave him unable to work, so he applied for social security disability benefits. The ALJ in this case found that he had multiple severe impairments, including “obesity; history of left lower extremity arterial occlusion; history of a seizure disorder; degenerative disc disease; sleep apnea; mild arthritis of the right hand; depression, and a personality disorder.” (R. 13). The ALJ further found that he suffered from diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but that those conditions did not cause severe impairments. At the step three analysis, the ALJ discussed at length whether Mr. Anglemyer met the criteria of listing 12.04 for affective disorders. She found that Mr. Anglemyer had “moderate” but not “marked” difficulties in each of his activities of daily living, his social functioning, and his concentration, persistence, and pace, so he did not meet or equal the listing.

         The ALJ therefore proceeded to evaluate Mr. Anglemyer's residual functional capacity. She found that he was capable of performing sedentary work, with a variety of postural and environmental limitations. She further found that, because of his limitations in social functioning and concentration, persistence, and pace, Mr. Anglemyer would be limited to performing “unskilled, ” “low stress” work with only superficial interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and the public, but that he “is able to sustain and attend to task throughout the eight-hour workday.” (R. 18). Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, who was presented a series of hypotheticals that included progressively more serious limitations, the ALJ found that Mr. Anglemyer would be unable to perform his past work, but that he could work as a “sorter, ” “table worker, ” or “assembler.” Accordingly, she found that he did not qualify as disabled under the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Anglemyer's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Anglemyer therefore filed this action seeking review of that decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the ALJ's decision as the final word of the Commissioner of Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and denial of disability benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could differ” about the disability status of the claimant, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         It is the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400. In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court considers the entire administrative record but does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute the Court's own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim's rejection and may not ignore an entire line of evidence that is contrary to his or her findings. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). Consequently, an ALJ's decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. Ultimately, while the ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, the ALJ must provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Disability benefits are available only to those individuals who can establish disability under the terms of the Social Security Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998). Specifically, the claimant must be unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security regulations create a five-step sequential evaluation process to be used in determining whether the claimant has established a disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The steps are to be used in the following order:

1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals one listed in ...

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