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Dillinger v. Berryhill

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

August 22, 2017

SHAWNA K. DILLINGER o/b/o TIMOTHY RAYMOND DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Shawna K. Dillinger, on behalf of her deceased brother, Timothy Raymond Davis, appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny Davis's application for disability insurance benefits. An administrative law judge found that Davis was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Dillinger raises a number of challenges to this determination, including that the ALJ's determination that Mr. Davis did not have an impairment that meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment is not supported by substantial evidence. Because I find that the ALJ failed to adequately support his Step Three determination, I will reverse and remand on the issue.

         Background

         Davis was 44 years old at the time of his hearing. [DE 13 at 54.] He was a high school graduate. [A.R. at 55.][2] At the hearing, Davis testified along with a vocational expert. Davis testified that his last day of work was July 31, 2011. [Id. at 48-49.] He worked at the same company for eighteen years, where he was a machine operator and, in his last year, forklift driver. [Id. at 49-50.] As part of his responsibilities as a machine operator, he had to pick up product, which was a foil laminated lid, that, on average, weighed around 10 pounds, but the heaviest one could be up to 40 pounds and he was on his feet all day. [Id.] As a forklift operator, he sometimes had to lift a 70 pound rubber block up to his head. [Id. at 51.] Davis had carpal tunnel surgery on both hands in 2010, after which they seemed to get worse. [Id.] He testified that he stopped working because his carpal tunnel syndrome ultimately kept him from doing the job. [Id.] He said that he has great difficulty driving if it is for over 20 miles and can reach, but “can't pick anything up really.” [Id. at 55-56.] He later testified that he could pick change off of a table or button buttons if it was a “small amount, ” but otherwise his hands would cramp up and close and he would be unable to use them. [Id. at 62.]

         Of particular importance for present purposes, Davis testified that he suffers from seizures when he sleeps and also had a few concussions from slips and falls and car accidents. [Id. at 57.] Davis had four seizures while he was awake but had seizures roughly every other night that would wake up him and make him dizzy and sometimes sick to his stomach. [Id.]

         When asked to describe what a typical day was like for him, Davis testified that he feeds his two dogs, tries to do some laundry if he needs to, puts dishes in the dishwasher, and will go out and get the mail. [Id. at 63.] When asked if he does any cooking, he said that most everything he eats comes out of the microwave. [Id.]

         The ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. [Id. at 25-44.] At Step One, the ALJ found that Davis met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act and that he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 23, 2011, the alleged onset date. [Id. at 31.] At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that Davis suffered from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and epilepsy. [Id.] At Step Three, the ALJ determined that these various impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. [Id. at 32.] Next, the ALJ found that Davis has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b). [Id.] Given the RFC assigned by the ALJ, and based on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Davis was not capable of performing past relevant work but that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Davis could perform.

         Discussion

         My review of the Commissioner's decision is limited and I must be deferential to the ALJ's findings. An ALJ's findings of fact must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). The ALJ does not have to review every piece of evidence, but must provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 474 (7th Cir. 2009). When an ALJ denies disability benefits but fails to adequately support his conclusions, the decision must be remanded. Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011). Specifically, the ALJ's reasoning must be sufficiently articulated to permit meaningful review. See Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). I must only consider the evidence pointed out by the ALJ in his written decision. See Jelinek, 662 F.3d at 811 (“[W]hat matters are the reasons articulated by the ALJ.”).

         Dillinger makes two arguments as to how the ALJ erred, but I will focus on her claim that the ALJ's finding that Davis did not have an impairment that meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment is not supported by substantial evidence. [DE 16 at 16.] In his opinion, the ALJ found that Davis's epilepsy does not meet the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and noted, albeit in a conclusory way, that he specifically considered the requirements of Listings 11.02 and 11.03. [A.R. at 32.] These Listings were revised after the ALJ's opinion was issued and this action was filed. For purposes of this Opinion, when I refer to Listings 11.02 and 11.03, I am referring to them as they existed before they were revised. Listing 11.02 provides:

Epilepsy-convulsive epilepsy (grand mal or psychomotor), documented by detailed description of a typical seizure pattern, including all associated phenomena; occurring more frequently than once a month in spite of at least 3 months of prescribed treatment.
A. Daytime episodes (loss of consciousness and convulsive seizures) or
B. Nocturnal episodes manifesting residuals which interfere significantly with ...

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