United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
MARQUISHA L. LOFTIN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
L. Loftin appeals the denial of her application for Social
Security Disability Benefits. An administrative law judge
found that Loftin was not disabled. Because I agree with
Loftin that the ALJ's decision did not provide a
sufficient basis for rejecting the opinions of the state
agency medical consultants, I will reverse the ALJ's
decision and order a remand so that Loftin's application
may be further considered.
application for disability benefits, Loftin alleged a
disability onset date of May 30, 2014. [A.R. 20.] Loftin
had previously been denied disability benefits in an earlier
application. At the time of her hearing on her current claim
for benefits, Loftin was 28 years old and testified that she
had an eleventh grade education. [Id. at 49.] Loftin
alleged she was disabled on account of her sickle cell
anemia, two hip replacements, and need for shoulder surgery.
[Id. at 25.] In November 2014, she reported
increased pain, lightheadedness, weakness, and dizziness
which were exasperated by routine daily activities.
[Id.] Loftin testified at her hearing that her pain
had progressed to the point where she was unable to perform
most daily activities, including cleaning, cooking, dressing
herself, caring for her children, or driving to doctors
appointments without the daily assistance of family members
and friends. [Id. at 48, 65.]
written decision denying benefits, the ALJ followed the
familiar five-step process used to evaluate claims for
disability. At step one, the ALJ determined that Loftin had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date. [A.R. at 22.] At step two, the ALJ found the
following severe impairments: “sickle cell disease;
osteoarthritis; a history of bilateral hip replacement; and
avascular necrosis of the bilateral shoulders status post
right shoulder hemiarthroplasty.” [Id. at 23.]
But at step three, the ALJ determined that these impairments,
separate or combined, did not meet or equal any of the
applicable Social Security listings. [Id.]
four, the ALJ assessed a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and found that Loftin could not perform
any of her past relevant work, but that she did have the RFC
to perform light work. [Id. at 28.] The decision
that Loftin can perform light work is the principal issue in
this appeal. This is because if she can do light work, there
are an abundance of jobs in the national economy that Loftin
can perform, according to the testimony of a vocational
expert. [Id. at 29-30.]
Commissioner's factual findings shall be conclusive if
they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§405(g). Loftin argues that the ALJ's rejection of
the opinions of the consulting state agency physicians that
Loftin can only stand or walk for two hours during an
eight-hour workday is not supported by substantial evidence.
This is important because, had this opinion been accepted by
the ALJ, Loftin would have been unable to perform light work
thus making the ALJ's RFC determination an error.
how the matter developed in the administrative proceedings:
the consulting physicians, Drs. Hasanadka and Brill, opined
that given Loftin's physical ailments, she can only stand
or walk for two hours during an eight-hour workday. The ALJ
rejected this component of the medical opinion and found it
to be “no longer fully consistent with the medical
evidence.” [A.R. at 28.] In doing so, the ALJ stated as
However, Drs. Hasanadka and Brill's assessment that the
claimant could only stand or walk for two hours during an
eight-hour workday is no longer fully consistent with the
medical evidence showing that the claimant has experienced a
general increase in mobility and lower extremity functioning
since her bilateral hip replacement, more fully discussed in
the prior Administrative Law Judge hearing decision. The
clinical findings over multiple exams consistently show that
the claimant had full strength, good range of motion, and
intact sensation in the lower extremities, and did not
require an assistive device for ambulation. Therefore, the
undersigned gave only partial weight to the opinions of Drs.
Hasanadka and Brill.
[A.R. 28 (citations to exhibits omitted).] Loftin argues that
by discounting the opinions of these consulting physicians,
the ALJ improperly found she could stand or walk for more
than two hours per work day as part of the RFC determination.
Commissioner counters that the ALJ's opinion should be
read not to affirmatively indicate that Loftin can stand or
walk for six hours per eight-hour work day, but instead
merely to reject the state agency physicians' opinions.
[DE 21 at 6-7.] This is a curious argument, given that if it
were accepted, it would undermine the ALJ's determination
and ruling, as there would be a missing piece in the RFC
determination. It would omit what capacity Loftin had to
stand or walk during the course of a typical work day, a key
component of the RFC determination. Despite the
Commissioner's position that I read the ALJ's opinion
to find that there was no hours determination made, the more
natural reading of the ALJ's opinion is to the contrary.
It seems clear to me that in rejecting the state agency
physicians' medical opinions the ALJ was necessarily
finding that Loftin could stand or walk for more than two
hours per eight-hour workday.
reading is further confirmed by the ALJ's RFC
determination itself. The ALJ's RFC determination limited
Loftin to “light work.” Under the relevant Social
Security Ruling, light work is defined as requiring “a
good deal of walking or standing” and
“[r]elatively few unskilled light jobs are performed in
a seated position.” S.S.R. 83- 10; 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b) (“a job is in this category when it
requires a good deal of walking or standing . . . ”);
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000)
(“According to Social Security regulations,
‘light work' is generally characterized as . . .
standing or walking, off and on, for six hours during an
eight-hour workday . . . ”). Lastly, the ALJ's
inclusion of a limitation that Loftin would need to alternate
between sitting and standing every twenty minutes in her RFC
determination suggests the ALJ determined that Loftin could
stand for approximately four hours of an eight-hour work day.
is clear that the ALJ rejected the state agency
physicians' opinions on how many hours per day Loftin can
stand or walk. The issue thus become whether the ALJ did so
with a sufficient evidentiary basis. See Wilder v.
Chater, 64 F.3d 335, 337 (7th Cir. 1995) (reversing
where “the facts on which the administrative law judge