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Mary J. v. Saul

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

August 22, 2019

MARY J.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 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, Mary J., on April 27, 2018. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Mary J., filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on February 4, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of September 14, 2012. (Tr. 11). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Mary J.'s applications initially on June 16, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on September 15, 2014. (Tr. 11). Mary J. subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on September 23, 2014. (Tr. 11). A video hearing was held on January 20, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kathleen Kadlec, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 16, 2017. (Tr. 11-24). Vocational Expert (VE) Pamela Tucker appeared and testified at the hearing. (Tr. 11). The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         Mary J. met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2017. (Tr. 13). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Mary J. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 14, 2012, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 13).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Mary J. had the following severe impairments: obesity, degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 14). The ALJ indicated that Mary J.'s severe impairments significantly limited her ability to perform basic work activities. (Tr. 14).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Mary J. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 14). Specifically, the ALJ determined that Mary J.'s impairments did not meet listings 1.04 and 11.14. (Tr. 14). The ALJ also considered Mary J.'s obesity, singly and in combination with her other impairments, and determined that although worsened by her obesity her impairments still were not of listing level severity. (Tr. 14).

         Next, the ALJ considered Mary J.'s mental impairments, singly and in combination, against the criteria listed in listings 12.04 and 12.06. (Tr. 15). In making this finding, 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. 15). 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. 15).

         The ALJ determined that Mary J. had moderate limitations in understanding, remembering, or applying information; no limitations in interacting with others; moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and no limitations in adapting or managing herself. (Tr. 15). Because Mary J.'s mental impairments did not cause at least two “marked” limitations or one “extreme” limitation, the ALJ determined that the paragraph B criteria was not satisfied. (Tr. 15). Additionally, the ALJ determined that Mary J. did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 15). The ALJ also noted that no State agency psychological consultant concluded that a mental listing was medically equaled. (Tr. 15).

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

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except no operation of hand controls; frequent overhead reaching bilaterally; frequent reaching in other directions bilaterally; frequent handling, fingering, and feeling bilaterally; occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, and crawling; no ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no work at unprotected heights or moving mechanical parts; no operation of commercial motor vehicle; no exposure to extreme cold; and no outside work. Further, the claimant is limited to simple routine work procedures, simple work-related judgments, and changes commensurate with unskilled work.

(Tr. 16). The ALJ explained that in considering Mary J.'s symptoms she followed a two-step process. (Tr. 16). First, she 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 Mary J.'s pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 16). Then, she evaluated the intensity, persistence, and ...


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