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Hungerford v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 6, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Tim A. Baker, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         In this Social Security appeal, Plaintiff Sharlet R. Hungerford argues the Administrative Law Judge failed to properly consider her fibromyalgia and migraine headaches. Hungerford contends the ALJ's fibromyalgia analysis was perfunctory. And for both fibromyalgia and migraines, Hungerford maintains the ALJ ignored and misconstrued evidence and failed to obtain a medical expert opinion on equivalency, which resulted in the ALJ impermissibly relying on her own lay opinion. Defendant Nancy Berryhill responds that the Court should affirm the ALJ's decision because the decision as a whole supports the ALJ's conclusions and the ALJ acted within her discretion in deciding not to seek an additional expert opinion. As explained below, the Magistrate judge recommends that Hungerford's request for remand [Filing No. 15] be granted because the ALJ failed to adequately analyze Hungerford's fibromyalgia and migraines.

         II. Background

         Hungerford has a high school education and has worked as a bartender, housekeeper, hand packager, and as an order taker. Hungerford sought disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in May 2014, alleging disability beginning in January 2013. Her application was denied initially and upon review. Following a hearing, the ALJ found that Hungerford was not disabled. Hungerford appealed the decision, but the Social Security Administration adopted the ALJ's decision over Hungerford's objections.

         In reaching her decision, the ALJ followed the SSA's five step sequential evaluation process. The ALJ found Hungerford satisfied step one because she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since before her alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found Hungerford had several severe impairments: “osteoarthritis of the knees, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, headaches, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder.” [Filing No. 13-2, at ECF p. 13, R. at 12.] At step three, the ALJ found Hungerford did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listings in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404 sub. pt. P. app. 1. The ALJ considered whether Hungerford's condition met or equaled Listings 1.02, 1.04, 12.04, 12.06, and 14.09D. Hungerford argues the ALJ should have also considered Listing 11.03.

         Before reaching step four, the ALJ determined that Hungerford had the residual functional capacity to do light work, subject to postural and manipulation restrictions. The ALJ also limited Hungerford to simple and routine tasks with no more than simple, routine changes in her work environment. At step four, the ALJ considered Hungerford's RFC and testimony from a vocational expert and determined that Hungerford was capable of performing past relevant work as a housekeeper.

         III. Discussion

         Hungerford raises three principal arguments. First, Hungerford argues the ALJ's consideration of Listing 14.09D was perfunctory and that the ALJ played doctor by looking for specific evidence, and then deciding against Hungerford when she did not find that evidence. Second, Hungerford challenges the ALJ's consideration of her migraines, arguing the ALJ failed to address Listing 11.03 altogether and did not consider her limitations due to migraines. Third, Hungerford contends the ALJ necessarily played doctor by failing to obtain an expert opinion that specifically addressed whether her impairments medically equaled Listings 14.09D or 11.03.

         The Court reviews ALJs' decisions to ensure they apply the correct legal standard, and their decisions are supported by substantial evidence. Bates v. Colvin, 736 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2013). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Summers v. Berryhill, 864 F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017). 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). The Court's review is deferential-it cannot reweigh the evidence or supplant the ALJ's judgment with its own.[1] Summers, 864 F.3d at 526.

         Claimants are presumptively eligible for benefits if their impairments meet or equal 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 a listing's 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. “Whether a claimant's impairment equals a listing is a medical judgment, and an ALJ must consider an expert's opinion on the issue.” Barnett v. Barnhart, 381 F.3d 664, 670 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1526(b)). ALJs “must discuss the listing by name and offer more than a perfunctory analysis of the listing.” Id. at 668.

         a. Fibromyalgia and Listing 14.09D

         Hungerford makes two arguments specific to the ALJ's discussion of Listing 14.09D as it relates to her fibromyalgia: 1) the ALJ's analysis was perfunctory and 2) the ALJ played doctor by failing to address contradictory evidence and by assuming Hungerford's treatment was conservative. Hungerford's second argument is persuasive.

         No listing specifically addresses fibromyalgia, but ALJs are nonetheless required to determine whether the claimant's condition medically equals another listing. Soc. Sec. Ruling 12-2p, Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Fibromyalgia, SSR 12-2P, 2012 WL 3104869, at *6 (July 25, 2012). Listing 14.09D, which is the listing for inflammatory arthritis, is expressly highlighted as an example of a listing that a claimant's fibromyalgia condition may equal. Id.

         Listing 14.09D requires:

Repeated manifestations of inflammatory arthritis, with at least two of the constitutional symptoms or signs (severe fatigue, fever, malaise, or involuntary weight loss) and ...

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