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Wilson v. Berryhill

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

March 5, 2018

BETSY S. WILSON, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE

         Betsy Wilson seeks judicial review of a final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1383 et seq. The court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and heard counsels' arguments on March 1. For the following reasons, the court vacates the Commissioner's decision and remands this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         Ms. Wilson's application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income was denied initially, on reconsideration, and after an administrative hearing at which she and a vocational expert testified. Based on the record before him, the ALJ found that Ms. Wilson had severe impairments-major depressive disorder, recurrent moderate; anxiety disorder; and obesity-but concluded that none of her impairments met or medically equaled any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1.

         The ALJ decided that Ms. Wilson had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range work at all exertion levels, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567, 416.967, with limitations;[2] including her past relevant work as an order filler/packer and other work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, such as kitchen helper, prep cook, and conveyer tender. The ALJ concluded that she wasn't disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and wasn't entitled to benefits.

         When the Appeals Council denied Ms. Wilson's request for review, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000); Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         The issue before the court isn't whether Ms. Wilson is disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that she wasn't disabled. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011); Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d at 1160. In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the court can't reweigh the evidence, make independent findings of fact, decide credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner, Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009); Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 434-435 (7th Cir. 2000), but instead must conduct “a critical review of the evidence, considering both the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that detracts from, the Commissioner's decision.” Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). While the ALJ isn't required “to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, he must provide a ‘logical bridge' between the evidence and the conclusions so that [the court] can assess the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and afford the claimant meaningful judicial review.” Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d at 1160. ALJs must “sufficiently articulate their assessment of the evidence to assure [the court] that they considered the important evidence and to enable [the court] to trace the path of their reasoning.” Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         Ms. Wilson argues that the ALJ's decision wasn't based on substantial evidence because he improperly weighed the opinion evidence of Dr. Lois Duryea, D.O., didn't address relevant evidence in the record from Ms. Wilson's former employer, incorrectly found that her time off task could be accommodated by normal breaks, and erroneously discounted her credibility.

         Ms. Wilson's situation posed a hard question for the ALJ; a “psychiatric impairment is not as readily amenable to substantiation by objective laboratory testing as a medical impairment.” Poulin v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 865, 873 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (quoting Lebus v. Harris, 526 F.Supp. 56, 60 (N.D. Cal. 1981)). But this court can't affirm the ALJ's decision unless he “provided a ‘logical bridge' between the evidence and the conclusions.” Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d at 1160.

         Ms. Wilson first contends that the ALJ improperly weighed the opinion evidence of Dr. Duryea, her treating psychiatrist. The only opinion evidence from Dr. Duryea that the ALJ weighed was a note from Dr. Duryea stating: “Betsy can work 4 hours a day for 5 days a week. Please schedule accordingly. Thank you.”[3] [Doc. No. 9 at 393]. The ALJ discounted Dr. Duryea's opinion about Ms. Wilson's ability to work, claiming Dr. Duryea “provide[d] no support for her opinion.” Id. at 29. The ALJ is right that the note itself provided no support for her opinion, but the ALJ didn't recognize that Dr. Duryea's treatment records repeat this opinion and demonstrate her basis for it.

         Dr. Duryea repeatedly opined in Ms. Wilson's treatment notes that her anxiety and depression impairments prevented her from working full-time, id. at 395, 401, 407, 412, 417, and noted that it was hard for Ms. Wilson to “keep jobs due to anxiety and depression.” Id. at 409, 415, 420. Dr. Duryea also opined that Ms. Wilson had very high anxiety, with “several phobias, ” PTSD symptoms, and a racing heart at work. Id. at 413, 418. The ALJ addressed some of Dr. Duryea's treatment notes in his opinion, but the ALJ didn't acknowledge this support and substantiation of her opinion on Ms. Wilson's ability to work. Accordingly, the ALJ didn't “provided a ‘logical bridge' between the evidence and [his] conclusion[ ]” that Dr. Duryea provided no support for her opinion that Ms. Wilson couldn't work full-time. See Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d at 1160.

         Ms. Wilson also argues that the ALJ erred by not addressing evidence in the record from Walmart, one of her former employers, about her ability to maintain a reasonable work schedule. The ALJ relied on Ms. Wilson's full-time employment at Walmart in early 2014 to discount her complaints of depression and anxiety, but didn't address the Walmart records that shows that Ms. Wilson didn't show up for work, was absent without authorization, or didn't complete her shift 19 times during her five months of work at Walmart, an average of almost four times per month. [Doc. No. 10 at 338-347]. The Walmart records don't indicate why Ms. Wilson chronically failed to complete her shift or was absent, but ...


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