United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
VIRGINIA G. HELTERBRAND, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF
BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
conducting a hearing and issuing a decision, Administrative
Law Judges have many things they must remember to properly
discuss, develop, and analyze, all while being efficient
under the weight of heavy caseloads. Nonetheless, ALJs'
decisions greatly impact claimants' lives, and
perfunctory analysis will not do. Unfortunately, in this
instance the ALJ erred in her step three discussion of
Listing 12.04(C), and the Court grants Plaintiff Virginia
Helterbrand's request for remand. [Filing No.
Virginia Helterbrand sought Social Security Income benefits
due to her mood disorder and other physical and mental
impairments. The Social Security Administration found she was
not disabled, and Helterbrand appeals. Helterbrand argues the
ALJ's step three analysis was perfunctory and failed to
properly address her treating psychiatrist's opinion that
she met the Listing 12.04(C)(2) criteria. The Court finds
that the ALJ's discussion was insufficient and grants
Helterbrand's brief in support of appeal. [Filing No.
19.] Helterbrand raises four other issues that the Court need
not analyze in light of this remand order, but the ALJ may
want to reevaluate some of the evidence in light of
Helterbrand's arguments and the recent changes to Social
Security Rulings regarding credibility and weighing physician
filed her application for SSI on April 22, 2014, alleging
disability beginning April 1, 2014. The claim was denied
initially and upon review, so Helterbrand requested a
hearing. Helterbrand attended the hearing and was represented
by an attorney. The ALJ found Helterbrand was not disabled
because she could perform limited unskilled light work such
as housekeeping or preparing food.
found at step one that Helterbrand had not engaged in
substantial gainful employment for the relevant period. At
step two, the ALJ found Helterbrand had severe impairments of
mood disorder, personality disorder, and morbid obesity, and
non-severe impairments of depression, anxiety, diabetes,
migraine headaches, carpal tunnel, and gastroesophageal
found at step three that these impairments, individually or
in combination, did not meet or medically equal any of the
listings under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. The ALJ looked to several listings, but Helterbrand
only challenges the ALJ's analysis of Listing
12.04(C)(2), which relates to mood disorders. At step four,
the ALJ determined that Helterbrand had the residual
functional capacity to perform light work with several
additional limitations. The ALJ also found Helterbrand's
claims were not entirely credible. Based on her RFC, age,
education, work experience, and the testimony of a vocational
expert, the ALJ determined at step five that there were
significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
Helterbrand could perform. Thus, the ALJ found Helterbrand
was not disabled.
argues that the ALJ's decision must be remanded because
the ALJ erred at step three in her discussion of whether her
condition met or medically equaled Listing
12.04(C)(2). Helterbrand's argument is two-fold.
First, she argues the ALJ's analysis was impermissibly
perfunctory. Second, she argues the ALJ failed to adequately
address Dr. Betsy Rosiek's opinion. The Commissioner
responds that, read as a whole, the decision adequately
supports the ALJ's determination, and that Dr.
Rosiek's opinion was properly rejected.
are presumptively eligible for benefits if their impairment
meets or equals one or more of the impairment listings.
Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929, 935 (7th Cir.
2015); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Claimants may satisfy
the listing requirements by meeting the listed criteria or by
showing that their symptoms medically equal the severity of
the listing. Minnick, 775 F.3d at 935; 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1526. ALJs “must discuss the listing by name
and offer more than a perfunctory analysis of the
listing.” Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664,
668 (7th Cir. 2004). In Barnett, the court held that
a two-sentence analysis of a listing was perfunctory and
warranted remand. Id. at 670.
listing criterion at issue here reads: “A residual
disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment
that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in
the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to
decompensate . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1.
ALJ's entire analysis was a single sentence: “The
claimant does not have a residual disease process that has
resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal
increase in mental demands or change in the environment would
be predicted to cause the claimant to decompensate.”
[Filing No. 15-2, at ECF p. 25; R. at 24.] It appears that
ALJ merely copied the exact language from the listing and
tacked “the claimant does not have . . .” to the
credit, the Commissioner does not argue that this analysis is
not perfunctory. Instead, the Commissioner argues that the
ALJ discussed relevant facts in other areas of the decision.
In a footnote, the Commissioner cites Molnar v.
Astrue, 395 F. App'x 282, 287 ...