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Torres v. Berryhill

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

May 28, 2019

JOSE TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          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, Jose Torres, on October 12, 2017. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Jose Torres, filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on March 10, 2016 and March 17, 2016, respectively, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2015. (Tr. 16). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Torres' applications initially on May 13, 2016, and again upon reconsideration on August 23, 2016. (Tr. 16). Torres subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on September 13, 2016. (Tr. 16). A video hearing was held on February 21, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) William E. Sampson, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 14, 2017. (Tr. 16-31). Vocational Expert (VE) Carrie E. Anderson appeared by telephone at the hearing. (Tr. 16). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).

         Torres met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2018. (Tr. 18). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Torres had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2015, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 18).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Torres had the following severe impairments: bilateral sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) with tinnitus and hearing aid use; hypertension (HTN) status post small vessel ischemic changes and an acute/sub-acute left thalamic infarct; and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 18). The ALJ found that Torres' severe impairments, considered singly and in combination, imposed more than a minimal limitation on his physical and mental ability to engage in basic work activities. (Tr. 18). The ALJ found that Torres' fecal incontinence and/or irritable bowel syndrome were not medically determinable impairments. (Tr. 19).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Torres did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 20). The ALJ indicated that, as for Torres' bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, he retained the ability to carry on a conversation at normal levels. (Tr. 20). Also, as for his hypertension, the ALJ indicated that it was not of such severity as to meet or medically equal listing 4.00. Finally, the ALJ determined that Torres' mental impairments did not meet or medically equal listings 12.04 and 12.06. (Tr. 20).

         The ALJ considered the paragraph B criteria for mental impairments, which required at least one extreme or two marked limitations in a broad area of functioning which include:

understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting or maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself.

(Tr. 20). The ALJ indicated that a marked limitation means the ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis is seriously limited, while an extreme limitation is the inability to function independently, appropriately, or effectively, and on a sustained basis. (Tr. 20-21).

         The ALJ determined that Torres had mild limitations in understanding, remembering, or applying information; moderate limitations in interacting with others; moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and no limitations in adapting or managing himself. (Tr. 21). Because Torres' mental impairments did not cause at least two “marked” limitations or one “extreme” limitation, the ALJ determined that he did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria. (Tr. 21). Additionally, the ALJ determined that Torres did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 21).

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

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and/or crawl. The claimant can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and must avoid concentrated exposure to noise. The claimant is further limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. The claimant can tolerate brief and superficial interaction with co-workers and supervisors, but the work cannot require interaction with the general public.

(Tr. 22). The ALJ explained that in considering Torres' symptoms he followed a two-step process. (Tr. 22). First, he determined whether there was an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment that was shown by a medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic technique that reasonably could be expected to produce Torres' pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 22). Then, he evaluated the intensity, persistence, and ...


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