United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
AMANDA S. G.,  Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
G. applied for social security disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income, alleging that she is unable
to work due to her severe mental impairments of bipolar
disorder, anxiety, and depression. In formulating Ms.
G.’s residual functional capacity, the ALJ improperly
evaluated opinion evidence demonstrating Ms. G.’s
difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace and
with social functioning. In addition, although the ALJ
considered new Listings 12.04 and 12.06, the ALJ relied on
opinion evidence given under the prior listings without
acknowledging the changes and did not properly discuss why
Ms. G. does not meet the Listings. Remand is required for
she stopped working in 2008, Ms. G. had worked as a certified
nursing assistant and a bench press operator. Ms. G. has some
physical impairments, which include lower back pain from a
motor vehicle collision in 2001, but they are not severe for
purposes of the disability determination. Ms. G. suffers from
the mental impairments of bipolar disorder, anxiety, and
depression, all of which the ALJ found to be severe. Ms.
G.’s treatment history includes diagnoses for major
depressive disorder, severe without psychotic features, and
generalized anxiety disorder in 2007. Over the years she was
treated for her psychological disorders and was prescribed
medication. In 2013, Ms. G. was diagnosed with bipolar
disorder, most recent episode depressed, and anxiety
disorder. From 2012 to 2017, Ms. G. received medication
management at the Bowen Center, the records of which reveal
an ongoing attempt to identify the most effective medication.
In February 2017, Ms. G. reported at her medication
management appointment that she was “just surviving,
” rating her depression as a 9/10. AR 1309. Although
she attended some counseling in 2012, Ms. G. did not respond
to requests for further appointments.
held a hearing on Ms. G.’s first application for
benefits in August 2013, and, on January 14, 2014, the ALJ
found Ms. G. not disabled. On September 17, 2014, the Appeals
Council denied Ms. G.’s request for review, and Ms. G.
filed a civil action under cause number 1:14-cv-356,
challenging the unfavorable January 14, 2014 decision.
Meanwhile, Ms. G. filed new applications for benefits in
October 2014, which were denied initially and upon
reconsideration. On October 4, 2016, the Court issued an
opinion and order remanding Ms. G.’s first case for
further proceedings. On January 9, 2017, the Appeals Council
remanded the first case to the ALJ for further proceedings,
consolidating the remand with the subsequent claim filed in
31, 2017, the ALJ conducted a new hearing, and, on June 21,
2017, the ALJ issued a new decision. The ALJ made the
following residual functional capacity finding:
After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the physical residual
functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all
levels of exertion. She retains the mental residual
functional capacity to perform simple, routine and repetitive
tasks that a worker can learn through short demonstration and
up to thirty days. She can maintain the concentration
required to perform simple tasks, remember simple work like
procedures, and make simple work related decisions. She can
maintain the attention and concentration as well as the
persistence to perform such duties on a day-in and day-out
basis, for eight hours per day, five days per week or within
some other form of full time competitive work environment. As
to social contacts, she is limited to superficial
interactions with co-workers, supervisors, and public with
superficial interaction defined as occasional and casual
contact not involving prolonged conversation or discussion of
involved issues. Her contact with supervisors still involves
necessary instruction. The claimant is limited to work within
a low stress job defined as requiring only occasional
decision making and only occasional changes in the work
setting. She can tolerate predictable changes in her
AR 687. Finding that Ms. G. could perform other work in the
economy, the ALJ found that Ms. G. was not disabled. The
Appeals Council declined review, and Ms. G. filed this action
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the
ALJ’s decision as the final word of the Commissioner of
Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702,
707 (7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the
Commissioner’s findings of fact and denial of benefits
if they are supported by substantial evidence. Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial
evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971). This 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). Even if “reasonable minds could differ”
about the disability status of the claimant, the Court must
affirm the Commissioner’s decision as long as it is
adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408,
413 (7th Cir. 2008).
has the duty to weigh the evidence, resolve material
conflicts, make independent findings of fact, and dispose of
the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at
399–400. In evaluating the ALJ’s decision, the
Court considers the entire administrative record but does not
reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute the Court’s own judgment for
that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003).
Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of
the evidence” before affirming the Commissioner’s
decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the
claim’s rejection and may not ignore an entire line of
evidence that is contrary to his or her findings.
Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir.
2001). The ALJ must provide a “logical bridge”
between the evidence and the conclusions. Terry v.
Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD FOR DISABILITY
benefits are available only to those individuals who can
establish disability under the terms of the Social Security
Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir.
1998). Specifically, the claimant must be unable “to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Social
Security regulations create a five-step process to determine
whether the claimant qualifies as disabled. 20 C.F.R.
416.920(a)(4)(i)–(v). The steps are to be used in the
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
3. Whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals
one listed in ...