United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ERICH R. R., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST
BAKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
seeks remand of the Administrative Law Judge's decision
denying her disability benefits. Plaintiff's appeal rests
on two arguments: 1) the ALJ failed to articulate his
application of Social Security Ruling 16-3p, which
concerns how ALJs evaluate statements regarding a
claimant's symptoms, and 2) the ALJ failed to properly
consider the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician
under SSR 96-2p, which requires the ALJ to give
deference to a treating physician's opinion. The Deputy
Commissioner responds that the ALJ adequately supported his
determination that Plaintiff's symptoms were not as
severe as he claimed, and the ALJ adequately explained his
reasoning for giving greater weight to the examining
physician over the treating physician. Though it is true the
ALJ did not explicitly walk through the factors of either
ruling factor-by-factor, Plaintiff fails to show the
ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence.
Therefore, Plaintiff's request for remand [Filing No.
12] should be denied.
sought disability insurance benefits alleging disability
beginning on April 1, 2012. The Social Security
Administration denied his request initially and again upon
reconsideration. Following a hearing, the ALJ issued a
decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals
Council upheld the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff now asks the
Court to remand the decision to the ALJ for reconsideration.
followed the SSA's five-step process for evaluating
disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a) (explaining the five-step process). At step
one, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since his alleged onset date. At step two,
the ALJ found Plaintiff had four severe impairments: low back
pain, a history of ascending aortic aneurysm, moderate
depressive disorder, and a history of alcohol use disorder.
At step three, the ALJ determined that none of the severe
impairments met or medically equaled any of the impairment
listings in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, sub pt. P, app'x
1. Before moving on to step four, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity:
[Plaintiff] had the [RFC] to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R [§] 404.1567(a) except: He
is able to lift, carry, push or pull ten pounds occasionally
and less than ten pounds frequently. He is able to sit for
six hours during a typical eight-hour workday with normal
work breaks. He is able to stand for fifteen to thirty
minutes at one time and for two hours in a normal workday. He
is able to walk for fifteen to twenty minutes at one time and
for two hours in a normal workday. He is not able to climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but he is able to climb ramps or
stairs occasionally. He is able to balance, stoop, crouch,
kneel or crawl occasionally. He is able to reach frequently,
but not constantly. He must avoid exposure to hazards such as
unprotected heights or dangerous moving machinery. He must
avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as
fumes, smoke, gases and the like.
[Filing No. 7-2, at ECF pp. 39-40, R. at 38-39
(internal footnote omitted).]
four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not able to perform past
relevant work as either a bartender or as an optician.
However, at step five, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was a
younger individual (between age 45 and 49) on the onset date,
had at least a high school education, and could communicate
in English. Based on these factors and Plaintiff's RFC,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.
Thus, the ALJ decided Plaintiff was not disabled.
Court reviews the ALJ's decision to ensure it is
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Substantial evidence is “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Summers v. Berryhill, 864
F.3d 523, 526 (7th Cir. 2017). However, an ALJ's
decision is not supported by substantial evidence if the
Court cannot follow the ALJ's reasoning from the facts to
the conclusion. Pepper v. Colvin, 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th
Cir. 2013). The Court reads the ALJ's decision as a
whole, giving it “a commonsensical reading rather than
nitpicking it.” Castle v. Astrue, 617 F.3d 923, 929
(7th Cir. 2010).
Social Security Ruling 16-3p
first argues the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to comply with
SSR 16-3p, which “provides guidance about how
[ALJs] evaluate statements regarding the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of symptoms in disability
claims.” In seeking disability benefits, Plaintiff
testified that his degenerative disc disease and tachycardia
cause disabling symptoms. Plaintiff contends the decision
provides little application of SSR 16-3p and fails
to provide an acceptable discussion of the evidence.
[Filing No. 12, at ECF p. 20.] Plaintiff further
claims the ALJ erroneously relied solely on objective medical
evidence to discredit Plaintiff's alleged symptoms. The
Deputy Commissioner responds that, while the ALJ focused on
the extensive medical evidence that contradicted
Plaintiff's claims, the ALJ also addressed other evidence
and the relevant factors.
evaluating a claimant's symptoms, ALJs are to
“examine the entire case record, including the
objective medical evidence; an individual's
statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of symptoms; statements and other information
provided by medical sources and other persons; and any other
relevant evidence in the individual's case record.”
SSR 16-3p (emphasis added). Under SSR
16-3p, ALJs no longer assess claimants' credibility,
but “continue to assess the credibility of pain
assertions by applicants, especially as such
assertions often cannot be either credited or rejected on the
basis of medical evidence.” Cole v. Colvin,831 F.3d 411, 412 (7th Cir. 2016) (emphasis in original).
When evaluating those assertions, ALJs consider (1) the
claimant's daily activities, (2) the location, duration,
frequency, and intensity of pain or other symptoms, (3)
factors that precipitate and aggravate symptoms, (4) the
type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any
medication the claimant takes or has taken to alleviate pain
or other symptoms, (5) treatment, other than medication, the
claimant receives or has received for relief of pain or other
symptoms, (6) any measures other than treatment the claimant
uses or has used to relieve pain or other symptoms, and (7)
any other ...