United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Collins United States Magistrate Judge
Kylie Anne Prilaman appeals to the district court from a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying her application under the
Social Security Act (the “Act”) for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income benefits (“SSI”). For the following
reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.
March 17, 2009, Prilaman filed an application for DIB,
alleging disability as of April 1, 2001. (DE 11
Administrative Record (“AR”) 20, 149-50, 156-58,
456). Prilaman's application was denied initially and
upon reconsideration. (AR 74-81, 83-88). At Prilaman's
request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law
Judge on July 28, 2010. (AR 20, 33-69). The Administrative
Law Judge rendered an unfavorable decision (AR 17-32), which
eventually became the final, reviewable decision of the
Commissioner (AR 1-16, 272).
13, 2012, Prilaman timely filed a complaint in this Court,
appealing the decision of the Commissioner. (See
1:12-cv-00191-RBC, DE 1). On April 1, 2013, the parties filed
a joint motion to remand Prilaman's appeal to the
On remand, the [Administrative Law Judge] will reevaluate
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, providing an
appropriate rationale for his determination, which will
include explaining the weight given to all medical opinions
of record, especially [F. Kladder, Ph.D.'s] and [Karen
Lothamer C.N.S.'s], following the requirements of 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527 and SSR 06-03p. The [Administrative
Law Judge] will offer Plaintiff the opportunity for a new
hearing and receive additional evidence. After reevaluating
the evidence, the [Administrative Law Judge] will issue a new
decision regarding Plaintiff's disability application.
(1:12-cv-00191-RBC, DE 23; see also AR 669). On
April 2, 2013, the Court granted the parties' joint
motion for a remand. (1:12-cv-00191-RBC, DE 24; see
also AR 668). Additionally, in or around July 2012,
Prilaman filed an application for SSI and a new application
for DIB, which were also denied initially and upon
consideration. (AR 456, 727-44, 746-59, 844-45, 851-56).
November 2013, the Appeals Council remanded Prilaman's
2012 applications for SSI and DIB and consolidated those
claims with the claims in Prilaman's initial appeal that
were remanded by this Court. (AR 456, 667-81). On July 26,
2014, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
William Pierson (the “ALJ”). (AR 544-93). At the
hearing, Prilaman, who was represented by counsel, testified,
as did vocational expert Marie Kieffer (the
“VE”). (AR 544).
October 8, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding that Prilaman was not disabled. (AR 453-73). Prilaman
requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's
decision, and the Appeals Council denied her request, making
the ALJ's decision the final, appealable decision of the
Commissioner. (AR 446-52).
filed the complaint in this action on December 21, 2017,
seeking relief from the Commissioner's final decision.
(DE 1). In her appeal, Prilaman alleges that the ALJ: (1)
erred in crafting the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) by discrediting Ms. Lothamer's
assessments of Prilaman's mental limitations in June 2010
and June 2014; and (2) did not incorporate Prilaman's
moderate limitations in maintaining concentration,
persistence, or pace in his hypothetical to the VE. (DE 20 at
THE ALJ's FINDINGS
the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB or SSI if she
establishes an “inability to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to . . .
last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1),
423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A physical or mental impairment
is “an impairment that results from anatomical,
physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are
demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§
determining whether Prilaman is disabled as defined by the
Act, the ALJ conducted the familiar five-step analytical
process, which required him to consider the following issues
in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is currently
unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment;
(3) whether the claimant's impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals one of the Commissioner's
listings, see 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P,
App'x 1; (4) whether the claimant is unable to perform
her past work; and (5) whether the claimant is incapable of
performing work in the national economy. See Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001); 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. An affirmative answer
leads either to the next step or, on steps three and five, to
a finding that the claimant is disabled. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative
answer at any point other than step three stops the inquiry
and leads to a finding that the claimant is not disabled.
Id. The burden of proof lies with the claimant at
every step except the fifth, where it shifts to the
Commissioner. Id. at 885-86.
one, the ALJ found that Prilaman had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date.
(AR 458-59). At step two, the ALJ found that Prilaman had the
following severe impairments: major depressive disorder
recurrent, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (AR 459-60).
three, the ALJ concluded that Prilaman did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to
meet or equal a listing. (AR 460-61). Before proceeding to
step four, the ALJ determined that Prilaman's symptom
testimony was “not entirely credible” (AR 462),
and assigned her the following RFC:
[T]he claimant has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work
at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional
limitations: She is limited to simple, routine, repetitive
tasks. She can maintain the concentration required to perform
simple tasks, and can remember simple work-like procedures.
She is limited to low-stress work (defined as requiring only
occasional decision making and only occasional changes in the
work setting); she can tolerate predictable changes in the
work environment. She is limited to superficial interaction
with coworkers, supervisors and the public (with superficial
interaction defined as occasional and casual contact, not
involving prolonged conversations; contact with supervisors
would still involve necessary instruction and prolonged
conversations with coworkers must not be necessary to task
completion[)]; the claimant is best in an environment that
does not involve tandem, shoulder-to-shoulder work activity.
She is limited to basic reading such as address labels and
(AR 461-62). Based on this RFC, the ALJ found at step four
that Prilaman could not perform her past relevant work. (AR
471). The ALJ considered the testimony of the VE and other
evidence in the record and determined at step five that
Prilaman could perform other jobs in the national economy
that exist in significant numbers, and therefore, her
applications for DIB and SSI were denied. (AR 471-73).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
405(g) of the Act grants this Court “the power to
enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The Court's task is limited to determining
whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence, which means “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Schmidt v. Barnhart,
395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The
decision will be reversed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or if the ALJ applied an erroneous legal
standard. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th
determine if substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews
the entire administrative record but does not re-weigh the
evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility,
or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's.
Id. Rather, if the findings of the Commissioner are
supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive.
Id. Nonetheless, “substantial evidence”
review should not be a simple rubber-stamp of the
Commissioner's decision. Id. (citing Ehrhart
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 969 F.2d 534,
538 (7th Cir. 1992)).
Ms. Lothamer's Assessments
Prilaman contends the RFC determination is flawed because the
ALJ did not provide good reasons for discounting Ms.
Lothamer's assessment of Prilaman's limitations in
June 2010 and June 2014. For the reasons stated below,
Prilaman's argument fails.
is “the individual's maximum remaining ability to
do sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a
regular and continuing basis, ” meaning eight hours a
day, for five days a week. SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2
(July 2, 1996); see Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995,
1000-02 (7th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted); 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1) (“Your [RFC]
is the most you can still do despite your
limitations.”). The RFC assessment “is based upon
consideration of all relevant evidence in the case record,
including medical evidence . . . .” SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL
374183, at *5 (July 2, 1996); see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545, 416.945. The Seventh Circuit Court of
Appeals has stated that “more weight is generally given
to the opinion of a treating physician because of his greater
familiarity with the claimant's conditions and
circumstances.” Clifford, 227 F.3d at 870
(citations omitted); see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2). Each medical opinion, other
than a treating physician's opinion, must be evaluated
pursuant to factors articulated in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(c) and 416.927(c) to determine the proper weight to
apply to it. See White v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 654,
658-60 (7th Cir. 2005). One factor the ALJ may consider is
the extent to which an opinion is supported by the record.
Long v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., No. 2:15-CV-408-JEM,
2017 WL 1161012, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 28, 2017) (quoting SSR
96-5p, 1996 WL 374183, at *3, 5).
September 2005, Prilaman submitted to examination at Park
Center. (AR 293-95). Records describe Prilaman as
“pleasant and cooperative, but clearly depressed . . .
. Speech [was] clear and goal directed. She [was] oriented to
person, place, and time, ” although she admitted to
“overwhelming suicidal ideation.” (AR 295). There
was no evidence of disturbances in her thought process or
thought content. (AR 295).
was seen at Park Center again in April 2009. (AR 276-83). She
presented as depressed, anxious, angry, and with poor
judgment. (AR 279). However, there was “no evidence of
thought disturbance” and her “thought content and
processes [were] within normal range.” (AR 279). She
was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, recurrent
unspecified, and cannabis dependence, and she was assigned a
Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of
October 2009, Prilaman submitted to examination by Kenneth
Bundza, Ph.D. (AR 349-52). Dr. Bundza conducted a series of
tests and found that Prilaman demonstrated
“adequate” verbal and compression skills; she was
“alert and oriented in all spheres;” her
long-term and immediate memory were intact; she was able to
deal with basic mental arithmetic tasks involving more than
one function; and she possessed adequate common sense,
although her abstract thinking was somewhat compromised. (AR
350-51). Dr. Bundza concluded that “[t]he results of
this Mental Status Examination do not indicate the ...