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Wartak v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 24, 2018

PAUL WARTAK JR., on behalf of PAUL A. WARTAK, deceased, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Andrew P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on petition for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner filed by the plaintiff, Paul Wartak Jr., on behalf of Paul A. Wartak, deceased, on May 4, 2017. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.


         The plaintiff, Paul A. Wartak, filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on October 27, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of January 1, 2010. (Tr. 10). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Wartak's applications on December 20, 2011, and again upon reconsideration on May 30, 2012. (Tr. 10). Wartak subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on June 28, 2012. (Tr. 10). A video hearing was held on August 9, 2013, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Henry Kramzyk, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 13, 2013. (Tr. 10-22). Vocational Expert (VE) Thomas A. Gusloff testified at the hearing. (Tr. 10). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4). Wartak appealed to this court, and this court remanded the matter on March 8, 2016. (Tr. 558-87).

         On September 20, 2016, a hearing was held before ALJ Romona Scales, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 4, 2017. (Tr. 461-73). VE Clifford M. Brady appeared at the hearing. The ALJ determined that Wartak was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2010 through the date of the decision, January 4, 2017, thereby rendering it the Agency's final decision for judicial review. (Tr. 473). On February 16, 2018, Wartak filed a stipulation of partial dismissal. The court has dismissed Wartak's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) for review of the Commissioner's final decision denying Wartak's application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

         Wartak met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2014. (Tr. 463). On January 4, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision and made findings as to each of the steps in the five-step sequential analysis. (Tr. 461-73). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Wartak had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 463).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Wartak had the following severe impairments: left eye blindness, hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obesity, schizoid personality disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety. (Tr. 463). The ALJ indicated that she considered all the medically determinable impairments, in combination, when assessing Wartak's residual functional capacity and when determining if his impairments met or equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 463-64).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Wartak did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 464). The ALJ indicated that no treating physician or examining physician indicated diagnostic findings that would satisfy any listed impairment. (Tr. 464). Moreover, the ALJ considered Wartak's obesity and diabetes in conjunction with his other severe impairments and concluded that none of the listings were met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Tr. 464). The ALJ considered Wartak's mental impairments, singly and in combination, according to the criteria in Listings 12.03, 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08. (Tr. 464). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that the severity of Wartak's mental impairments did not meet or medically equal the listings. (Tr. 464).

         In finding that Wartak did not meet the above listings, the ALJ considered the paragraph B criteria for mental impairments, which required at least two of the following:

marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.

(Tr. 465). The ALJ defined a marked limitation as more than moderate but less than extreme and repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, as three episodes within one year or once every four months with each episode lasting at least two weeks. (Tr. 465).

         The ALJ determined that Wartak had a mild restriction in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and mild difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace. (Tr. 465). The ALJ found that Wartak had no episodes of decompensation which were of extended duration. (Tr. 465). Because Wartak did not have two marked limitations or one marked limitation and repeated episodes of decompensation, the ALJ determined that he did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria. (Tr. 466). Additionally, the ALJ found that Wartak did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 466).

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then assessed Wartak's residual functional capacity (RFC) as follows:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: limited to frequent stoop, couch, crawl, kneel, balance, and climbing of ramps and stairs, no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; limited to frequent near and far acuity; should avoid work that involves objects moving from left to right due to visual defects in the left eye and limits in depth perception in the left eye but otherwise can read at least newspaper print or greater, avoid hazards in the workplace, and handle small, medium, and large objects; should avoid concentrated exposure to loud noise; should avoid exposure to hazards such as slippery, wet, uneven surfaces, moving machinery, or unprotected heights; should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme temperatures and vibration; can understand, remember, and carry out work tasks and instructions without limitations; can maintain adequate attention and concentration to work tasks and instructions; limited to occasional and superficial contact with coworkers and supervisors; limited to incidental contact with general public; requires work free of fast paced production and quota; works best independently of others or in smaller teams of three or four; and can manage the changes associated within a routine work environment.

(Tr. 466). The ALJ explained that in considering Wartak's symptoms she followed a two-step process. (Tr. 467). First, she determined whether there was a physical or mental impairment that was shown by a medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic technique that reasonably could be expected to produce Wartak's pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 467). Then, she evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Wartak's functioning. (Tr. 467). The ALJ determined that Wartak's medically determinable impairments reasonably could have been expected to cause the alleged symptoms. (Tr. 467). However, Wartak's ...

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