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Frye v. Berryhill

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

October 16, 2017

ANGELA M. FRYE, Plaintiff
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



         Angela Frye seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her 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). The court reverses the Commissioner's decision and remands the case for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Angela Frye filed her original applications in 2012, alleging disability as of Nov 1, 2009. When those applications were denied, she reapplied alleging disability as of January 2012 due to multiple mental and physical impairments. Ms. Frye was 51 when she refiled, had a high school education, and was insured for Disability Insurance Benefits through June 30, 2014. Her renewed applications were denied initially, on reconsideration, and after an administrative hearing in March 2016, during which Ms. Frye amended the alleged onset date to November 15, 2015, expressly waived her claim to Disability Insurance Benefits (because the alleged onset of disability occurred after her date last insured), and pursued only her Supplemental Security Income claim.

         At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Ms. Frye and a vocational expert, Sharon Ringenberg. Based on the evidence presented, he found that:

• Ms. Frye had severe impairments: bipolar disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus II, lumbar disc herniation at the L5-S1 level, degenerative disc changes at ¶ 4-5 without focal herniation or headaches; and hypertension (20 CFR §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
• Her impairments, alone and in combination, didn't meet or equal the severity of any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P., Appendix 1, specifically Listings 12.04 (Affective Discorders) and 12.06 (Anxiety Related Disorders)).
• Ms. Frye had the residual functional capacity to perform light work with limitations.[2]
• Ms. Frye couldn't perform her past work as a retail worker (DOT 201.462-014) and school bus driver (DOT 913.463-010), but could perform other work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, including work as a routing clerk (DOT 222.587-038 - 150 jobs statewide/22, 000 nationally), [3] ticket taker (DOT 344.667-010 - 150 jobs statewide/10, 000 nationally), and mail sorter (DOT 209.687-026 - 1000 jobs statewide/50, 000 nationally).

         The ALJ concluded that Ms. Frye wasn't disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, and wasn't entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits or Supplemental Security Income. When the Appeals Council denied Ms. Frye's request for review, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). This appeal followed.

         Ms. Frye contends that the ALJ erred as a matter of law in denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits, and that his findings regarding her residual functional capacity and ability to perform other work at steps 4 and 5 of the sequential evaluation aren't supported by substantial evidence. More specifically, she alleges that:

(1) The ALJ failed to consider the results of a December 2015 MRI showing nerve root compression in the lower lumbar spine (AR 656-658) or Listing 1.04 (disorders of the spine) when he concluded that “the radiographic evidence” didn't support her subjective complaints regarding the severity and limiting effects of her physical impairments, and found that she retained the functional capacity to perform a limited range of light work.
(2) The ALJ relied on, and gave too much weight to, findings and medical opinions that predated the alleged onset of disability (November 1, 2015) and the December 2015 MRI - specifically an October 2015 RFC assessment by Dr. D. Whitley, a state agency consulting physician (AR 210-213).
(3) The ALJ found that Ms. Frye had moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, but didn't adequately identify what those limitations were in his hypothetical to the vocational expert. Citing Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 814-15 (7th Cir. 2015) (holding that a hypothetical question limiting a person to simple, repetitive work that was “free of fast paced production requirements” didn't provide the ...

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