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Todd A. v. Berryhill

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

July 26, 2018

TODD A., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF APPEAL

          Tim A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Todd A. appeals the Social Security Administration's denial of his application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Administrative Law Judge found that Plaintiff has severe impairments of anxiety, depression, and obesity. Plaintiff argues that (1) the ALJ failed to build a logical bridge between Plaintiff's father's testimony and her conclusion, and (2) the ALJ failed to account for Plaintiff's mild limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace in the residual functional capacity assessment and in the hypothetical questions posed to the vocational expert. As discussed below, Plaintiff's request for remand [Filing No. 13] should be granted because the ALJ failed to adequately assess Plaintiff's mild limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace arising from his memory problems.

         II. Background

         Following the SSA's five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) (explaining the five-step evaluation process). At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is severely impaired with anxiety, depression, and obesity. At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not presumptively disabled because his impairments do not meet or medically equal the severity of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.

         Before moving on to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work, subject to additional limitations. Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff was limited to simple, routine tasks; simple, work-related decisions; never interacting with the general public; and having occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers. In making this finding, the ALJ considered medical, opinion, and other evidence. Part of the ALJ's consideration included the testimony and third-party statement of Plaintiff's father, Phillip, which the ALJ assigned probative weight. At step four, the ALJ relied on Plaintiff's RFC and a vocational expert's testimony to determine that Plaintiff would be unable to perform any past relevant work. However, at step five, the ALJ determined that he can perform jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy despite Plaintiff's limitations.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff makes two arguments in support of his appeal. Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ did not build a logical bridge between the evidence and her conclusion because she did not adequately explain the extent to which she credited Phillip's testimony. The Deputy Commissioner responds by arguing that the ALJ met her burden of articulating “at some minimum level, [her] analysis of the evidence to allow the appellate court to trace the path of [her] reasoning.” [Filing No. 22, at ECF p. 13 (quoting Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 n.2 (7th Cir. 1995).] To the extent the record lacks additional evidence, the Deputy Commissioner argues Plaintiff has the burden of providing medical evidence demonstrating his disability-a burden that she argues Plaintiff failed to meet. Plaintiff's second argument is that the ALJ failed to include Plaintiff's mild limitations in concentration, persistence, or pace in her RFC assessment and in the hypothetical questions she posed to the vocational expert. In response, the Deputy Commissioner argues that the ALJ reasonably accounted for those limitations.

         On review, the Court exercises deference and determines whether “substantial evidence” supports the ALJ's decision. Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1979)). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id.The Court does not “reweigh evidence or substitute [its own] judgment for that of the ALJ.” Murphy v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir. 2013)). However, the Court will remand the ALJ's decision if the reasons given by the ALJ do not “build an accurate and logical bridge” between the evidence and the result. Lanigan v. Berryhill, 865 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2017).

         A. Phillip's Testimony

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ did not build a logical bridge between the evidence and her conclusion because she did not adequately explain which parts of Phillip's testimony she credited. Plaintiff contends that by failing to build a logical bridge, the ALJ robbed subsequent reviewers the chance to follow her reasoning. In response, the Deputy Commissioner argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination because she met the standard of minimally articulating her analysis of the evidence.

         Social Security Ruling 06-03p discusses how ALJs consider opinion evidence and “not acceptable medical sources.” SSR 06-03p; see also20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(f)(2) (tracking the language of SSR 06-03p and applicable to claims filed on or before March 27, 2017). Opinions of individuals who have not seen the claimant in their professional capacity (such as spouses, parents, and friends) are included in SSR 06-03p's definition of this type of evidence. Id.When articulating the consideration given to these sources, the ALJ “generally should explain the weight given to opinions from these ‘other sources,' or otherwise ensure that the discussion of the evidence in the determination or decision allows a claimant or subsequent reviewer to follow the [ALJ's] reasoning, when such opinions may have an effect on the outcome of the case.” Id. When analyzing evidence, the ALJ is “not required to address every piece of evidence . . . nor repeat the factual analysis throughout each section.” Bryant v. Berryhill, No. 1:17-CV-01850-JMS-TAB, 2018 WL 494640, at *7 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 22, 2018) (citing Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 370 n.5 (7th Cir. 2004)). So long as the ALJ minimally articulates her reasoning and develops a bridge between the evidence and the outcome, the Court will affirm. Rice, 384 F.3d at 371.

         While the ALJ did not provide specific quotations from Phillip's testimony or third-party statement, she minimally articulated her reasoning, allowing this Court to follow it. The ALJ credited Phillip's testimony “as it relates to the claimant's work . . . and the limitations in his ability to interact with others and concentrate.” [Filing No. 8-2, at ECF p. 25, R. at 24.] However, the ALJ determined that the level of impairment suggested by Phillip was not supported by evidence. Absent objective medical evidence supporting that testimony, the ALJ was free to determine that Plaintiff is not “incapable of working a simple job with low social interactions.” [Id.]

         Any concern that the ALJ's findings are contradictory regarding the weight given to Philip's testimony or third-party statement is not substantiated by the ALJ's decision when read as a whole. Discussing ...


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