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Carrico v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

July 30, 2019




         Virginia Carrico seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DBI”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1382 et seq. The court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons that follow, the court vacates in part, and affirms in part, the Commissioner's decision and remands this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         After administrative hearing at which Ms. Carrico and a vocational expert testified, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that Ms. Carrico had numerous severe impairments - osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, asthma, neurogenic syncope, premature ventricular contractions, obesity, migraines, borderline intellectual functioning, and anxiety. The ALJ didn't include an accounting of Ms. Carrico's non-severe impairments. The ALJ ultimately concluded that Ms. Carrico's impairments weren't severe enough, either singularly or in combination, to meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1. The ALJ considered listings 1.00Q (musculoskeletal impairments), 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint, 1.03 (asthma), 1.04 (disorders of the spine), 3.00I (respiratory impairments), 4.00F (cardiovascular impairments), 11.2 (epilepsy), 12.06 (anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders), 12.11 (neurodevelopmental disorders), and 14.09D (inflammatory arthritis) in her decision.

         The ALJ determined that Ms. Carrico's impairments mildly limited jer in understanding, remembering, and applying information. Ms. Carrico had a history of special education and had some difficulty with verbal instructions, but could follow written instructions. The ALJ also determined that Ms. Carrico was mildly restricted in her social functioning. Ms. Carrico interacted well with family and participated in a social group for mothers. Ms. Carrico also interacted well with supervisors and the general public and went shopping, but expressed anxiety with regards to potential interaction with her ex-husband. Her impairments created moderate difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace.

         The ALJ ultimately decided that Ms. Carrico had the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work with several distinct limitations. These limitations included certain restrictions to setting and standing; walking; lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling; climbing; balancing; and exposure to sensitive environments like those creating extreme cold, heat, or those that produce respiratory irritants. The ALJ further decided that although Ms. Carrico had no past relevant work experience, she could perform work perform work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy including as an office machine operator, mail clerk, or office helper. The ALJ concluded that Ms. Carrico wasn't disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and so wasn't entitled to disability benefits.

         II. Standard of Review

         The issue before the court isn't whether Ms. Carrico is disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that she wasn't disabled. Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011); Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the court can't reweigh the evidence, make independent findings of fact, decide credibility, or substitute its own judgment for that of the Commissioner, Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 513 (7th Cir. 2009); Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 434-435 (7th Cir. 2000), but instead must conduct “a critical review of the evidence, considering both the evidence that supports, as well as the evidence that detracts from, the Commissioner's decision.” Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). While the ALJ isn't required “to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, he must provide a ‘logical bridge' between the evidence and the conclusions so that [the court] can assess the validity of the agency's ultimate findings and afford the claimant meaningful judicial review.” Jones v. Astrue, 623 F.3d 1155, 1160 (7th Cir. 2010). ALJs must “sufficiently articulate their assessment of the evidence to assure [the court] that they considered the important evidence and to enable [the court] to trace the path of their reasoning.” Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         Ms. Carrico argues that the ALJ made several errors requiring remand: 1) that the ALJ's decision regarding her mental impairments is not supported by substantial evidence; 2) that the ALJ erred in its concentration, persistence, and pace determination; 3) that the ALJ erred in its RFC determination as applied to certain mental limitations; 4) that the ALJ failed to properly consider the medical opinion of Dr. Woods; and 5) that the ALJ did not properly weigh Ms. Carrico's own statements regarding her alleged ailments. Ms. Carrico asks the court to either reverse the Commissioner's decision and award benefits or remand the case for further proceedings.

         A. The ALJ's Decision Regarding Plaintiff's Mental Impairments

         i. Depression and Other Severe Impairments

         Ms. Carrico first argues that the ALJ's decision regarding her mental impairments wasn't substantially supported by the evidence in the record. She argues that the ALJ erred in excluding evidence of her depression during step-two of the five-step sequential evaluation ALJs use to determine whether an individual is disabled. 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(A), 416.920(a). The Commissioner responds that the ALJ properly evaluated Ms. Carrico's mental impairments, provided accommodations for those impairments, and didn't err in not analyzing Ms. Carrico's depression.

         The record contains evidence that Ms. Carrico suffered from and received treatment for, depression. These included documented diagnoses of depression and evidence of direct medical intervention aimed at addressing it. The ALJ, however, only found Ms. Carrico to have two severe mental impairments - borderline intellectual functioning and anxiety, and didn't include depression in the step-two analysis non-severe impairments. While the ALJ is tasked with the weighing of evidence and determining the severity of a plaintiff's impairments, the ALJ can't disregard entire lines of evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 675 (7th Cir. 2008); Denton v. Astrue, 596 F.3d 419, 425 (7th Cir. 2010). The ALJ ...

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