United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL G. GOTSCH, SR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Carol Johnson (“Johnson”) filed her complaint in
this Court seeking judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner's final decision to deny her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. This Court may
enter a ruling in this matter based on the parties'
consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons discussed below, this
Court reverses the Commissioner's final decision and
remands the decision to the Social Security Administration
for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
filed an application for SSI, alleging an onset date of
November 13, 2013. The Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied her application initially on
September 2, 2014, and upon reconsideration on September 18,
2014. Johnson appealed and testified before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”) via video hearing on October 5,
2016. Prior to the hearing, Johnson amended her alleged onset
date to June 20, 2014. On December 16, 2016, having found
that Johnson was not disabled as defined by the Social
Security Act, the ALJ issued his decision denying
Johnson's application for SSI. On September 12, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied Johnson's timely request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
November 9, 2017, Johnson filed a complaint in this Court
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On April 25, 2018, Johnson
filed her opening brief. Thereafter, on June 19, 2018, the
Commissioner filed a responsive memorandum asking the Court
to affirm the decision denying Johnson's benefits.
Johnson filed her reply brief on July 19, 2018.
seeks SSI based on symptoms of borderline intellectual
functioning, diabetes, obesity, and anxiety disorder that
allegedly make her unable to work. Johnson completed high
school in 1992 and was enrolled in special education classes
from 1978 to 1992. She has worked in the past as a
dishwasher, a restaurant mascot, and a hotel housekeeper.
Johnson testified that she stopped working due to insulin
reactions and difficulties with her supervisors.
hearing, Johnson testified that she has never been married,
lives with her mother, and has never had a driver's
license. Johnson testified that her diabetes causes insulin
reactions about every two and a half weeks, which cause her
to lose focus and break out in a sweat. Johnson also
testified she has difficulties with math questions, but can
help with grocery shopping and helped care for her ailing
father before his death. Johnson stated that she is shy but
can interact easily with her friends. Finally, Johnson
testified that she occasionally experiences panic or anxiety
attacks at night.
the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision reflecting the
following findings based on the five-step disability
evaluation prescribed in the SSA's regulations.
See20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). At step one, the
ALJ found that Johnson had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of June 20, 2014. At
step two, the ALJ found that Johnson has the following severe
impairments: borderline intellectual functioning, diabetes
mellitus, and obesity. However, the ALJ did not find that
Johnson's alleged mental impairment of anxiety disorder
was severe. At step three, the ALJ found that Johnson's
severe impairments did not meet or medically equal the
severity of the one the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
four, the ALJ considered Johnson's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”). The ALJ concluded that Johnson
has the ability to perform medium work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(c) with some limitations. The
limitations are as follows:
[Johnson is] limited to no climbing of ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; no
exposure to unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts;
limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, but not at production
rate (e.g. assembly line work); can frequently interact with
supervisors and coworkers; occasionally interact with the
public; no more than occasional decision-making or changes in
job setting; and in addition to normal breaks, will be off
task up to 10% of the time in an 8 hour workday.
[DE 13 at 19]. At step four, the ALJ found Johnson capable of
performing her past relevant work as a housekeeper and
dishwasher. The ALJ also found that other jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Johnson can
perform, such as janitor and food prep.
on these findings, the ALJ determined that Johnson has not
been under a disability, as defined by the Social Security
Act, from June 20, 2014. Johnson requested that the Appeals
Council review the ALJ's decision. On September 12, 2017,
the Appeals Council denied Johnson's timely request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. See Fast v. Barnhart, 397
F.3d 468, 470 (7th Cir. 2005).
Standard of Review
judicial review, the Social Security Act requires that the
Court accept the Commissioner's factual findings if
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir.
2000). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will
reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial
evidence or if the ALJ has applied an erroneous legal
standard. Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351
(7th Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence must be “more
than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir.
2007). Thus, substantial evidence is simply “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Kepple v.
Massanari, 268 F.3d 513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001).
reviews the entire administrative record but does not
reconsider facts, re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in
evidence, decide questions of credibility or substitute its
judgment for that of the ALJ. Boiles v. Barnhart,
395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). Thus, the question upon
judicial review is not whether the claimant is, in fact,
disabled, but whether the ALJ “uses the correct legal
standards and the decision is supported by substantial
evidence.” Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636
(7th Cir. 2013). The ALJ must build a logical bridge from the
evidence to his conclusion, and a reviewing court is not to
substitute its own opinion for that of the ALJ or to re-weigh
the evidence. Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626
(7th Cir. 2005).
an ALJ must articulate his analysis of the evidence in order
to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of her
reasoning and to confirm that the ALJ considered the
important evidence. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589,
595 (7th Cir. 2005). To assist the reviewing court, the ALJ
must provide at least a glimpse into the reasoning behind his
analysis and the decision to deny benefits. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). However,
where the ALJ's decision “lacks evidentiary support
or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review,
the case must be remanded.” Steele v.
Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).
Issues for Review
argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed for the
following reasons: (1) the ALJ's made insufficient or
deficient findings with regard to impairment listings; (2)
the ALJ's failure to evaluate the 2016 medical opinions
of Dr. Arshad and social worker Ms. Dugan-Marx, both from the
Swanson Center; (3) the ALJ's accordance of limited
weight to the medical opinion of psychological consultative
examiner Dr. Sacks and the third-party statement of
Johnson's mother; and (4) the ALJ's RFC determination
and subsequent hypothetical as relayed to the vocational
expert. The Court will handle each argument in turn.
three of the analysis, the ALJ determines whether the
claimant's impairment or combination of impairments is of
a severity to meet or medically equal the criteria of an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's
impairment or combination of impairments is of a severity to
meet or medically equal the criteria of a listing and meets
the duration requirement, the claimant is disabled.
Id. If it does not, the analysis proceeds to the
next step. Id. Here, the ALJ examined Johnson's
severe impairments considering Listing 12.05: Intellectual
Disabilities. The ALJ found that Johnson did not meet
the requirements of paragraphs A, B, C, or D, and thus
proceeded to the next step in the analysis. Johnson argues
that the ALJ erred in his analysis of Listing 12.05B and
12.05C, which would have automatically qualified Johnson for
benefits if satisfied. Further, Johnson contends that the ALJ
erred in not mentioning or considering Listing 12.02.
order to satisfy the requirements for any paragraph under
Listing 12.05, the claimant must first prove
“significantly subaverage general intellectual
functioning with deficits in adaptive functioning initially
manifested during the developmental period.” 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.05. Thus, the claimant
must show evidence that demonstrates or supports onset of the
impairment before the age of 22. The required level of
severity is met when the requirements in ...