Susan R. Spicher, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.
April 10, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 1:16-cv-00371 -
William C. Lee, Judge.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Kanne, Circuit Judges.
Spicher suffers from a series of chronic health problems,
including osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, fibromyalgia, and morbid
obesity. In 2010, Spicher applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income dating back to 2003. An ALJ concluded that Spicher had
not become disabled until September 20, 2012. The district
court affirmed the ALJ's decision. Because the ALJ's
conclusion was not supported by substantial evidence, we now
reverse and remand.
the second time Spicher's case is up for judicial review.
After a 2012 hearing, an ALJ found that Spicher was not
disabled from August 1, 2003 to May 30, 2012. But the
district court remanded the case because the ALJ had not
properly considered the limitations imposed by Spicher's
obesity, both independently and in combination with her other
impediments. Spicher v. Colvin, No. 1:13-CV-304-TLS,
2015 WL 4714293 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 7, 2015).
the remand, the ALJ held another hearing on May 25, 2016.
There, Spicher narrowed her case, focusing on whether she had
been disabled since December 31, 2008, when her insured
status expired. In response to the district court's
instructions to reconsider Spicher's obesity, the ALJ
consulted a second doctor who essentially adopted the
findings of the medical reports already in the record. At the
conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ remarked that her further
consideration of Spicher's obesity had not motivated her
to change her findings.
ultimately issued an opinion that again concluded that
Spicher had not been disabled until September 20, 2012. Her
decision rested on her finding that Spicher could hold a
sedentary position and perform three jobs identified by a
vocational expert. In addition, the ALJ found that Spicher
could occasionally crouch, crawl, balance, stoop, and kneel.
Spicher appealed that decision to the district court. After
the district court affirmed the ALJ's decision, Spicher
appealed to this court.
appeal, Spicher raises two issues. First, she argues that the
ALJ violated her due process rights by prejudging the outcome
of her case. Second, she contends that the ALJ improperly
concluded that she was not disabled. We address each argument
The ALJ did not violate Spicher's due process rights on
for disability benefits have the right to a hearing before a
fair decisionmaker. Keith v. Barnhart, 473 F.3d 782,
787-88 (7th Cir. 2007). We review whether alleged due process
violations merit a new hearing de novo, id.
at 787, and will remand for a new hearing only if the
"decisionmaker 'displayed deep-seated and
unequivocal antagonism that would render fair judgment
impossible.'" Id. at 788 (quoting
Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 556 (1994)).
directs the court to two points in the hearing that she
argues show the ALJ's bias against her. The first came as