United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF
BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Theresa B. Nelson appeals the Commissioner's denial of
her application for supplemental security income. Nelson, due
to her age of fifty-five, is in the “advanced
age” category for purposes of Social Security benefits.
She completed high school and some college and has worked as
a waitress, lab technician, and bill collector. Over the
years, Nelson has experienced severe deterioration in her
knee joints, which has led to “episodes of going stiff
and then shaking all over.” [Filing No. 16-8,
at ECF p. 53, R. at 438-39.] Based upon these joint-mobility
issues, Nelson sought Social Security Disability benefits.
Nelson argues that the Administrative Law Judge erred at step
four by giving great weight to testimony from Dr. Besen.
Nelson asserts that Dr. Beson's testimony is not
substantial evidence because it conflicted with other medical
sources and did not allow the ALJ to establish the necessary
logical bridge between the evidence and his decision.
However, the Court finds the ALJ did not err by relying on
Dr. Besen's expert opinion, and the ALJ developed a
logical bridge between the evidence and his conclusions.
Therefore, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
filed an application for supplemental security income,
alleging disability beginning on September 28, 2013. The
agency denied the claim initially and upon review. As a
result of Nelson's request, a hearing was held and Nelson
testified regarding her mobility issues, after which the ALJ
found Nelson was not disabled.
one, the ALJ determined that Nelson had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment since the alleged disability
onset. At step two, the ALJ found that Nelson's severe
impairments were seizure disorder, major dysfunction of
bilateral knees, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
spine. At step three of the evaluation, the ALJ concluded
that Nelson's impairments did not meet or medically equal
any of the listed impairments. At step four, the ALJ
concluded Nelson had the residual functional capacity to
perform light work but cannot climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds, must avoid concentrated exposure to unprotected
heights, and must avoid the operation of commercial vehicles.
Relying on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ then
found that Nelson was capable of performing substantial
gainful activity such as past relevant work as a bill
collector and lab technician. Thus, the ALJ determined Nelson
was not disabled.
Court's role is limited, and it is not permitted to
reweigh the facts or evidence. Elder v. Astrue, 529
F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). The Court must affirm the
ALJ's decision when it is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir.
2017). The decision must reflect that the ALJ built
a “logical bridge from the evidence to his
conclusion.” Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929,
935 (7th Cir. 2015). The ALJ's decision will lack
sufficient evidentiary support and require remand if it is
clear that the ALJ “cherry-picked” the record to
support a finding of non-disability. Wilson v.
Colvin, 48 F.Supp.3d 1140, 1147 (N.D. Ill. 2014).
argues the ALJ's decision was not based upon substantial
evidence because it relied on the opinion of evaluating
medical expert Dr. Besen. Nelson claims that Dr. Besen's
opinion was not based upon the entire medical record and was
inconsistent with the other expert medical testimony. Nelson
asserts that Dr. Besen's opinion could not be based upon
substantial evidence because Dr. Besen was ignorant of
critical x-ray evidence. Furthermore, Nelson contends Dr.
Besen's opinion was inconsistent with both examining and
non-examining medical sources, including the testimony of
examining physician Dr. Thomas. Therefore, Nelson argues the
ALJ could not have developed a logical bridge between the
evidence and his conclusion. Contrary to these arguments, the
Court finds that the ALJ adequately supported his reliance on
argues that the ALJ's reliance on Dr. Besen's
testimony constituted reversible error because the hearing
transcript shows that, at the time of the hearing, Dr. Besen
was unaware of crucial evidence in Nelson's file.
Specifically, Nelson claims that Dr. Besen's testimony
failed to adequately address the evidence related to the
damage and deterioration in her knees, and her difficulty in
standing and walking without a cane or walker. [Filing
No. 21, at ECF p. 12.] Nelson argues that despite
evidence in the record that medical scans showed severe joint
damage, Dr. Besen's testimony suggested that he did not
know whether x-rays had been performed and assumed that any
results would have shown minimal findings. [Id.] Dr.
Besen concluded that Nelson was “minimally
limited” in her ability to perform normal functions.
[Filing No. 16-2, at ECF p. 54, R. at p. 53.]
However, Nelson states that clinical examination of her knees
showed several indications of functional problems, which
would cause her difficulty with standing and walking.
gave great weight to Dr. Besen's opinion for two reasons.
First, Dr. Besen's conclusions were based upon a more
comprehensive review of the medical record than any of the
other expert witnesses, and he offered a thorough analysis of
the medical evidence based upon his medical expertise.
Second, Dr. Besen's conclusions were consistent with the
other examining and evaluating medical experts. For example,
the ALJ also gave significant weight to the opinion of
examining expert Dr. Gilpatrick, who also concluded that
Nelson was capable of performing normal movements. Further,
the ALJ developed a logical and accurate bridge between the
evidence and his conclusion based upon not only Dr.
Besen's comprehensive review of the entire medical record
[Filing No. 16-2, at ECF p. 55, R. at 54], but also
the opinions of several other treating and examining medical
experts including Drs. Gilpatrick, Sands, and Brill.
further asserts that the consulting physicians noted
limitations and restrictions that were not included in Dr.
Besen's opinion. However, as previously discussed, the
ALJ noted that Dr. Besen had the opportunity to review the
“entire medical record.” [Filing No. 16-2, at
ECF p. 55, R. at p. 54.] The medical consultants, to
whom Nelson refers, were unable to review the full medical
record and lacked sufficient impartiality, especially as
compared with the “independent medical experts.”
[Id.] Because of this, the ALJ did not err by giving
partial weight to the other consulting physicians'
Nelson maintains that the evidence indicating that she
required the use of a cane or walker was substantial, despite
Dr. Besen's opinion to the contrary. However, the ALJ
supported Dr. Besen's opinion by citing Dr. Gilpatrick,
who indicated that Nelson “could perform normal
movement” and made no indication of the need for an
assistive device. [Filing No. 16-2, at ECF p. 54, R. at
p. 53.] The Court will not reweigh this evidence.
Nelson argues that the ALJ erred by ignoring the expert
opinion of examining physician Dr. Thomas and giving great
weight to Dr. Besen without a sufficient explanation for
doing so. Nelson further asserts that the rejection of Dr.
Thomas's opinion was more troubling because Dr. Thomas
was the Social Security Administration's own consultative
examiner, and the opinion should have been given great
weight. However, the ALJ explained that Dr. Thomas's
opinion was given only partial ...