United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
JENNIFER N. RHOADES, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge
December 29, 2016, Plaintiff Jennifer N. Rhoades
(“Rhoades”) filed her complaint in this Court
seeking reversal or remand of the Commissioner of Social
Security's (“Commissioner's”) final
decision denying her application for supplemental security
income (“SSI”). On April 28, 2017, Rhoades filed
her Opening Brief in Support of a Social Security Appeal. On
August 2, 2017, the Commissioner filed a response requesting
that the Court affirm the Commissioner's decision.
Rhoades filed a reply brief on August 16, 2017. This Court
may enter a ruling in this matter based on the parties'
consent. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
For the reasons discussed below, the Court remands this
matter for further administrative proceedings.
August 20, 2013, Rhoades, age 26, filed an application for
Title XVI SSI with the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) alleging disability beginning April 1,
2008, due to depression and anxiety, panic disorder, possible
bipolar disorder, agoraphobia, and acid reflux. After the SSA
denied her application initially and upon reconsideration,
Rhoades requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”), which occurred on March 6, 2014.
completed fifth grade after which she was homeschooled.
Through homeschooling, Rhoades may have completed eighth
grade and some high school level work. She never earned a
GED, but gained work experience as a fast food worker, an
assistant chef, and a clerk.
ALJ hearing, Rhoades testified that she lives with her
parents and two children. She reported that she suffers from
constant anxiety, weekly panic attacks, hallucinations,
forgetfulness, and incidents of unexplained anger. Rhoades
claims that these issues manifest in stomach pain, crying
fits, tightened chest, hyperventilation, and sleeping
problems. Rhoades explained that her symptoms prevent her
from leaving home most of the time but that she overcomes her
fears and anxiety to drive herself to the grocery store and
doctor appointments about two or three times a week. She also
testified that she mostly cares for her children but with the
help of her mother who makes dinner for the children and
helps them with their homework when Rhoades cannot do it
herself. In addition, Rhoades indicated that her mother often
must remind her to tend to laundry.
provided the ALJ with medical records of her medical
treatment from December 2011 through June 2015. The record
included documentation of regular visits to the Oaklawn
Psychiatric Center, including primary care by Kathryn
Plummer, N.P. who referred Rhoades for psychiatric treatment
by LaRissa M. Chism, M.D., and several sessions with social
workers. Rhoades also provided the ALJ with two Mental
Capacity Assessments from Dr. Chism, one dated July 3, 2014,
the other dated March 11, 2015. In her 2015 opinion, Dr.
Chism indicated that Rhoades suffered from greater functional
limitations than those reflected in the 2014 opinion and thus
concluded that Rhoades is disabled and unable to work. State
Agency consultants, however, opined in 2013 that none of
Rhoades's impairments or any combination of impairments
review of the medical evidence and testimony from Rhoades and
a vocational expert at the hearing, the ALJ issued a written
decision on September 15, 2015. The ALJ's decision
included the following findings based on the five-step
disability evaluation prescribed in the SSA's
regulations. At Step One, the ALJ found that Rhoades
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August
20, 2013, her application date. At Step Two, the ALJ found
that Rhoades had the following severe impairments:
generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder,
severe major depressive disorder, and headaches. At Step
Three, the ALJ found that Rhoades's impairments did not
meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment.
Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined that
Rhoades has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) “to perform a full range of work at
all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations.” [DE 8 at 27]. Specifically, the ALJ found
can perform simple, routine and repetitive tasks that can be
learned with a short demonstration or within 30 days; can
maintain the concentration required to perform simple tasks;
and can remember simple work like procedures. She is limited
to low stress work, defined as requiring only occasional
decision-making and only occasional changes in the work
setting. She can tolerate predictable changes in the work
environment and meet production requirements in an
environment that allows her to sustain a flexible and goal
oriented pace. She is limited from fast-paced work, such as
assembly line production work with rigid or strict
productivity requirements. The claimant can make simple
work-related decisions. She is limited to superficial
interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and the public with
superficial interaction defines as occasional and casual
contact not involving prolonged conversation. The contact
with supervisors still involves necessary instruction, but
prolonged conversation is not necessary for task completion.
She cannot work within close proximity to very loud noises or
bright and flashing lights, such as fire alarms, fire alarm
lights, or strobe lights on more than occasional basis.
[DE 8 at 27].
Four, the ALJ found that Rhoades had no past relevant work.
At Step Five, the ALJ considered Rhoades's age,
education, work experience, and RFC and determined that as of
the date of his decision, Rhoades was able to perform the
jobs of Laundry Worker I, Industrial Cleaner, and Dishwasher,
which exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Rhoades was not
disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and therefore
did not qualify for SSI benefits. The Appeals Council denied
Rhoades's request for review of the ALJ's decision on
November 3, 2016. As a result, the ALJ's decision is the
Commissioner's final decision eligible for judicial
review by this Court. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
see also Fast v. Barnhart, 397 F.3d 468,
470 (7th Cir. 2005).
reviewing the decision of an ALJ will only reverse or remand
if the ALJ's findings are not supported by substantial
evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal
standard. Briscoe v. Barnhart,425 F.3d 345, 351
(7th Cir. 2005); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Substantial 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). Simply
stated, it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales,402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Thus, the task for the court on judicial review is not to
resolve the question of whether the claimant is, in ...