United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
ANGEL M. BOYLES, Plaintiff,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
Plaintiff, Angel M. Boyles, seeks review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration denying her application for supplemental
security income. The Plaintiff claims that the Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) committed error when she did not develop a
full and fair record for an unrepresented claimant, did not
give controlling weight to the combined opinion of her
treating psychiatrist and psychologist, and did not
incorporate limits for concentration, persistence, and pace
as part of the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.
reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, the Court finds
that there exists a basis to remand for further review.
2013, the Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental
security income under Title XVI, alleging an onset date of
October 1, 2012. She claimed an inability to work due to deep
vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. After her claim was
denied initially, as well as upon reconsideration, the
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. On July 14,
2016, the Plaintiff participated in a video hearing before
the ALJ. A vocational expert also testified. On September 23,
2016, the ALJ issued a written decision, applying the
well-known five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a).
first step, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since July 2013, the
application date. At the second step, the ALJ determined that
the Plaintiff's obesity, status-post deep venous
thrombosis, and a history of pulmonary embolism, degenerative
joint disease of the left knee, depression, post-traumatic
stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, a mood
disorder secondary to substance abuse, and cannabis
dependence were severe impairments that significantly limited
her ability to do basic work-related activities. The ALJ
determined that the Plaintiff's history of gallstones did
not cause more than minimal functional limitations.
Additionally, her asthmatic bronchitis did not satisfy the
durational requirements to be considered an impairment under
the governing regulations.
three, the ALJ considered whether the Plaintiff's
impairments, or combination of impairments, met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the impairments listed by the
Administration as being so severe that it presumptively
precludes substantial gainful employment. See 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. The ALJ considered several
listings related to the Plaintiff's left knee impairment,
her history of venous thrombosis, and mental impairments, but
concluded that the Plaintiff did not have any impairments, or
combination of impairments, that met a listing.
the ALJ was required, at step four, to determine the
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), which is
an assessment of the claimant's ability to perform
sustained work-related physical and mental activities in
light of her impairments. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1
(July 2, 1996). The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff had the
RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(a), but modified to include additional exertional,
postural, and environmental restrictions. The ALJ also
included limitations to account for the Plaintiff's
“moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or
pace and her subjective complaints of problems with her
memory.” (R. 34.) The RFC was stated as follows:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
the claimant has the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except she can lift and carry a
maximum of 10 pounds occasionally, less than 10 pounds
frequently; she can stand and/or walk for up to two hours in
an eight-hour workday, and sit for up to six hours in an
eight-hour workday. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds, and cannot crawl; but she can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and
crouch, but with clarification that when crouching or
squatting, she could not be required to be in a static
position for more than 60 seconds. She requires the option to
alternate between si[t]ting and standing that specifically
allows her to change from sitting to standing, o[r] from
standing to sitting, every 60 minutes. She cannot have
exposure to unprotected heights or dangerous moving
machinery, and she cannot use foot pedals. Finally, she can
understand, remember, and perform simple tasks, make simple
decisions, and adapt to routine changes in the workplace.
the ALJ found that the Plaintiff could not perform her past
relevant work as a cashier, houseworker/general, or
laborer/stores, she did conclude, at the final step of the
evaluation, that the Plaintiff was capable of performing the
representative occupations of order clerk, inspection, and
parts polisher. Because the ALJ had determined that the
Plaintiff could not perform the full range of sedentary work,
the ALJ relied on the testimony of the vocational expert (VE)
to determine whether jobs existed in significant numbers in
the national economy for an individual with the
Plaintiff's age (32), education (high school education),
work experience (unskilled), and RFC. The ALJ concluded that
a finding of not disabled was appropriate.
Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. In February 2017, the Appeals Council denied
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. Liskowitz v. Astrue, 559 F.3d 736,
739 (7th Cir. 2009). The Plaintiff seeks judicial review
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
claimant is disabled only if she shows an inability to
“engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason
of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted
or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not
less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
She has the burden of proving disability. See Id.
§ 423(d)(5)(A). She must establish that her physical or
mental impairments “are of such severity that [s]he is
not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot,
considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” Id. §
will affirm the Commissioner's findings of fact and
denial of disability benefits if they are supported by
substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence 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). It must be
“more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Even if “reasonable minds
could differ” about the disability status of the
claimant, the court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399-400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the court
considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the court's own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” ...