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Vogelgesang v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 14, 2018

AMANDA LYNN VOGELGESANG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff Amanda Lynn Vogelgesang seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security benefits and erred by failing to build a logical bridge between all of the Plaintiff's impairments and her residual functional capacity, improperly holding the Plaintiff's failure to comply with treatment plans or otherwise seek consistent treatment against her credibility, failing to give the appropriate weight to a state agency psychological examination, and by overemphasizing the Plaintiff's daily activities.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 5, 2015, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on December 1, 2014. (R. 19.) Her claims were denied initially, and upon reconsideration. (Id.) On August 8, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). (Id.) Charles McBee, an impartial vocational expert (VE) also appeared. (Id.) On February 9, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-3.)

         On April 10, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

         THE ALJ'S FINDINGS

         Disability is defined as the “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). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has been unable to engage in SGA since her alleged onset date, December 1, 2014. (R. 21.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including a history of stage IV thyroid cancer and myxoma tumor in the left thigh. (Id.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work. (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff had multiple non-severe impairments, including headaches, a low vitamin D level, and mental impairments, including anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but that “the claimant is, at most, only mildly limited by her mental impairments in her ability to perform activities of daily living, maintain social functioning, and sustain concentration, persistence, or pace.” (R. 21-23.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of the [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things she can still do physically, despite her limitations-to determine whether she can perform “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1 and that she had the RFC to “perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a).” (R. 24.) The ALJ imposed no other limitations on the Plaintiff's RFC.

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her alleged onset date. (R. 19-29.) The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (R. 25.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (Id.) The Plaintiff testified that she would miss at least 9 days of work per month, that she suffers from left leg pain at a level 8, that she has spasms in her legs to or 3 nights per week, that she is able to lift only a case of water, stand for 15-20 minutes at a time, sit for 20 minutes at a time, and walk for 20-25 minutes at a time. (R. 24.) She also testified that she felt sick in some way on a daily basis and that she had difficulty squatting, kneeling, climbing stairs, completing tasks, and using her hands. (R. 25.) The Plaintiff's mother stated that the Plaintiff sometimes needed to lie down, did not complete tasks, experienced cramping in her left leg, and had difficulty squatting, kneeling, and walking more than a quarter of a mile. (Id.)

         The ALJ also cited other parts of the record that did not support the Plaintiff's testimony, including that the Plaintiff continued to work after she was treated for her severe impairments, suggesting that she was not as limited as alleged; and that she “is able to engage in a rather full range of activities, ” noting that she is the primary caregiver for her two children, has friends, can drive, takes her children to and from school, helps her children with their homework, makes dinner sometimes, does laundry, does some shopping and housework, helps care for the family pets, visits her grandparents, cares for her personal needs, goes out alone, pays bills, and counts change. (Id.) Turning to the objective medical evidence, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff had not required surgery on her left leg since her alleged onset date, nor did she take any medication for her left leg issues on a regular or consistent basis and only once sought emergency room treatment since her alleged onset date. (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff's physical examination findings were “largely within normal limits.” (R. 26.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that “[t]he documentation of such findings, or the absence of such limitations of function within the objective medical findings, undermine, fail to support, or are inconsistent with allegations for greater limitations of function lasting twelve months in duration, ” which “undermine[s] the weight accorded to testimony and allegations.” (Id.) The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff's lack of ongoing mental health treatment through a psychiatrist, counselor, or psychologist tended to “undermine allegations for a severe mental impairment[] imposing significant limitation of function for twelve months in duration and despite treatment.” (Id.) The ALJ stated that “there is no medical opinion of record to fully corroborate the allegations made by the claimant and her mother or to support a more restrictive assessment of the claimant's physical residual functional capacity than acknowledged by the undersigned.” (R. 27.) Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that “[t]he claimant failed her burden of establishing a logical bridge between her allegations, the record and greater limitations of function lasting twelve months in duration.” (Id.)

         The Plaintiff has past relevant work as a cashier, which is unskilled, light work. (Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. (Id.) Relying on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that “considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.” (R. 28.) Thus, ...


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