United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
SCINDA M. HAMMAN, Plaintiff
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant
OPINION AND ORDER
L. Miller, Jr. Judge
M. Hamman seeks judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423 and 1382 et seq. The court has
jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). For the reasons that follow, the court vacates the
Commissioner's decision and remands this case for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
M. Hamman filed her applications for benefits in June 2014,
alleging that her disability began in March 20, 2012. Ms.
Hamman previously had applied for benefits in the spring of
2012; those earlier applications were denied in November
2012, and Ms. Hamman didn't appeal. The 2014 applications
were denied after an administrative hearing in which Ms.
Hamman and a vocational expert testified.
hearing, the Administrative Law Judge found that Ms. Hamman
had severe impairments - sub-average intellectual
functioning, depressive disorder, and attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder - as well as non-severe impairments -
papillary thyroid carcinoma (resulting in a right thyroid
lobotomy), hyperthyroidism (treated by medication),
degenerative disc disease, and cervical strain (treated by
medication and physical therapy). The ALJ ultimately
concluded that Ms. Hamman's impairments weren't
severe enough, either alone or in combination, to meet or
medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. The ALJ considered listings
12.02 (neurocognitive disorders), 12.04 (affective
disorders), and 12.06 (anxiety-related disorders) in her
determined that Ms. Hamman was mildly restricted in her daily
living. Ms. Hamman could neither cook nor clean, but could
shop, drive, and tend to some personal care. The ALJ also
found that Ms. Hamman was mildly restricted in her social
functioning. Ms. Hamman had a small social circle consisting
primarily of immediate family, interacted well with customers
and had made at least one friend at work. Her impairments
created moderate difficulties with concentration,
persistence, and pace. Ms. Hamman needed a high level of
supervision at times and became confused. Ms. Hamman also
struggled with persistence and concentration at work,
including lack of motivation to work and occasional problems
with counting correct change.
found that Ms. Hamman had the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with a number of discrete limitations. The ALJ further found
that Ms. Hamman was capable of performing past relevant work
experience as a cashier, and also that she could perform
other work that existed in significant numbers in the
concluded that Ms. Hamman wasn't disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act and so wasn't entitled
to disability benefits. When the Appeals Council denied her
request for review, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000); Jones
v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). This
Standard of Review
issue before the court isn't whether Ms. Hamman is
disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's decision that she wasn't disabled. Scott v.
Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011); Nelms v.
Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Substantial
evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir.
2010). In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the court
can't reweigh the evidence, make independent findings of
fact, decide credibility, or substitute its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner, Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d
503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009); Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d
431, 434-435 (7th Cir. 2000), but instead must conduct
“a critical review of the evidence, considering both
the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that
detracts from, the Commissioner's decision.”
Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir.
2005). While the ALJ isn't required “to address
every piece of evidence or testimony presented, he must
provide a ‘logical bridge' between the evidence and
the conclusions so that [the court] can assess the validity
of the agency's ultimate findings and afford the claimant
meaningful judicial review.” Jones v. Astrue,
623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). ALJs must
“sufficiently articulate their assessment of the
evidence to assure [the court] that they considered the
important evidence and to enable [the court] to trace the
path of their reasoning.” Scott v. Barnhart,
297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations
Hamman argues that the ALJ made several errors requiring
remand: 1) that the ALJ improperly weighed certain medical
and psychological opinion evidence; 2) that the ALJ erred in
evaluating Ms. Hamman's ability to complete daily
activities with regards to her residual function capacity;
and 3) that the ALJ erred in not evaluating Ms. Hamman's
work record as unique to Ms. Hamman. Ms. Hamman asks the
court to either reverse the Commissioner's decision and
award benefits or remand the case for further proceedings.
The ALJ's Weighing of the Medical and Psychological
Hamman first argues that the ALJ didn't properly weigh
the opinion of the Social Security Administration
consultative examiner, Heath Fervida, Psy.D. Ms. Hamman
further argues that that the ALJ didn't properly weigh
the opinions of consultative examiners Marilyn Nathan, Ph.D.,
and Frank Choate, Psy.D.
Social Security Administration ...