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Ladra v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

November 26, 2018

TRACY A. LADRA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, JUDGE

         Tracy Ladra appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her application for disability insurance benefits. An administrative law judge ruled Ladra was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Ladra challenges that decision on two grounds. First, she disputes the ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC) finding. Second, Ladra takes issue with the ALJ's evaluation of her daily living activities. Neither issue is grounds for reversal.

         The ALJ found that Ladra had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease with cervical and lumbar stenosis and headaches; hypertension; pseudo seizures; bipolar disorder; and borderline personality disorder. [Tr. 19.][1] In his opinion, the ALJ provided a detailed description of the medical evidence in the record which need not be repeated here. [See Tr. at 19-26.]

         Before diving into Ladra's arguments, let's go over some basics about my role in reviewing an ALJ's decision. I am not supposed to determine from scratch whether or not Ladra is disabled. Rather, I only need to determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Shideler v. Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012); Castile v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 926 (7th Cir. 2010); Overman v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2008).

         My review of the ALJ's decision is deferential. This is because the “substantial evidence” standard is not a particularly rigorous one. In fact, it's less than a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). There certainly has to be more than a “scintilla” of evidence. Id. So in conducting my review, I cannot “simply rubber-stamp the Commissioner's decision without a critical review of the evidence.” Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000). Nonetheless, the review is a light one and the substantial evidence standard is met “if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support the conclusion.” Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004).

         The RFC Determination

         The first issue raised by Ladra is whether the RFC was properly determined by the ALJ. RFC is a measure of what an individual can do despite the limitations imposed by her impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a). The RFC is “a function-by-function assessment based upon all of the relevant evidence of an individual's ability to do work-related activities.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *3. In assessing the RFC, the ALJ should consider all of the medically determinable impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545; SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *3, 7. It is the claimant's responsibility to provide medical evidence showing how her impairments affect her functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a).

         While the ALJ need not mention every piece of evidence in the record, the RFC determination must provide an “accurate and logical bridge” between the evidence and the conclusion that the claimant is not disabled. Zblewski v. Astrue, 302 Fed.Appx. 488, 492 (7th Cir. 2008); Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009). The regulations have explained that an ALJ should consider limitations and restrictions imposed by a person's impairments, even those that are not severe, because while “a ‘not severe' impairment(s) standing alone may not significantly limit an individual's ability to do basic work activities, it may - - when considered with limitations or restrictions due to other impairments - - be critical to the outcome of a claim.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *5.

         Here is the detailed RFC arrived at by the ALJ:

[T]he claimant had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except the claimant can occasionally lift and carry up to 20 pounds and frequently up to 10 pounds; can sit, stand, and walk for 2 hours each at one time and for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day; can frequently reach overhead with the right and left hand and frequently push or pull and can continuously reach all other, handle, finger, and feel bilaterally. The claimant can frequently operate foot controls bilaterally. She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs and occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl.
The claimant can frequently balance and stoop. The claimant can never work at unprotected heights, around moving mechanical parts, or operate a motor vehicle. She can occasionally tolerate exposure to vibrations and frequently to humidity, wetness, dusts, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants, extreme cold, and extreme heat. Noise is moderate, office. The claimant is capable of managing simple, routine work tasks mentally, within a work environment with only occasional and uncomplicated workplace interactions with routine and predictable workplace stressors. The claimant is able to understand, remember, and carryout simple instructions and to make judgments on simple work related decisions, to respond to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. The claimant is limited to occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors and the public. The claimant requires work free of production rate pace but she could have an end of day production quota.

[Tr. at 20-21.]

         Ladra's skeletal brief challenging the RFC determination fails to connect the dots. Instead, she simply provides a sort of laundry-list of non-severe impairments that she says the ALJ failed to adequately take into account in the RFC. The checklist includes headaches, occipital neuralgia, bipolar disorder, Tietze's disease, brachial neuritis, and any limitations relating to lighting/photophobia. [DE 24 at 12-13.] Providing a checklist is not the same as providing analysis of the evidence in the record that the ALJ allegedly ignored. Ladra has failed to elaborate on how these impairments should have been considered or how that consideration would result in a change of her limitations or a finding of disability. Id.

         In any event, contrary to Ladra's claim, I think the ALJ did a commendable job analyzing her combined impairments and substantial evidence supports his RFC findings. Let's start with the first impairment on Ladra's list: the headaches. The ALJ did consider Ladra's headaches. He noted her complaints about headache-related symptoms, and that she was diagnosed with chronic headaches, then alternatively, migraines with cluster headaches. [Tr. at 21, 23, 1494, 1497, 1627.] The ALJ discussed at length that Ladra treated her symptoms with a series of medications and received depro-medrol and lidocaine injections every three months, which Ladra reported “were helpful.” [Tr. at 23, 1631-32, 1640-41.] The ALJ also noted that when ...


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