United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
GAIL M. M., Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL G. GOTSCH, SR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Gail M. (“Ms. M”) filed her complaint in this
Court seeking judicial review of the Social Security
Commissioner’s final decision to deny her applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits
under Titles II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act
respectively. This Court may enter a ruling in this matter
based on the parties’ consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons
discussed below, this Court REMANDS the
Commissioner’s final decision for further proceedings.
DIB and SSI applications dated April 22, 2014, Ms. M alleged
an onset date of October 1, 2013. The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied her application
initially and upon reconsideration leading Ms. M to request a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). Ms. M and her aunt, Ms. Williams,
testified at the ALJ hearing on January 6, 2017. On March 10,
2017, the ALJ issued his decision denying Ms. M’s
applications for disability benefits having found her not to
be disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. On April
10, 2017, the Appeals Council denied her 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).
ripe before this Court is Ms. M’s request for judicial
review of the Commissioner’s decision under 42 U.S.C.
seeks disability benefits based on her impairments of carpal
tunnel syndrome, orthopedic issues in her back, hips, knees,
and ankles, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, anxiety
disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(“ADHD”), and depression. Ms. M worked previously
at a hospital on the cleaning staff.
ALJ hearing, Ms. M appeared anxious and testified that she
was scared. In fact, both the ALJ and her attorney had to
reassure her multiple times about the process and offer
suggestions to calm her. In describing her regular
activities, Ms. M testified that she has bad days-which she
defined as not being able to get out of bed- every day. Yet
she also testified that she is able to use the bathroom and
bathe, but sometimes needs help. Ms. M also testified that
her aunt, Ms. Williams, assists her by making meals. She told
the ALJ she could drive, but only out of necessity.
her physical symptoms, Ms. M testified that she is not able
to squat, bend over, or carry anything due to arthritis in
her knees, back, and shoulders and that she suffers constant
pain in her buttocks. She contended that she has issues both
sitting and standing for longer than 5-15 minutes at a time
and cannot walk without a walker.
also reported mental symptoms including issues with
concentration and memory, such as she is unable to remember
what medications she takes. Ms. M further testified that she
feels unable to deal with people. Ms. M visits her
psychiatrist twice a week and was hospitalized for panic
attacks five times in two years.
Williams then testified that she routinely visits Ms. M, who
lives alone, and assists her with meals and her medications.
Specifically, Ms. Williams noted that she has to remind Ms. M
to take her multiple medications. Ms. Williams also testified
that Ms. M does not stay in bed all day, but that she
retreats to her room if anyone else comes over. She further
reported that over time, she has witnessed Ms. M’s
physical impairments compound her mental impairments to the
point that Ms. M covers her windows with sheets out of
concern that people outside are talking about her.
the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision applying the
five-step disability evaluation process described in the
SSA’s regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4); 416.920(a)(4). At Step One, the ALJ found that
Ms. M had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
the alleged onset date of October 1, 2013. At Step Two, the
ALJ found that Ms. M suffered from severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity,
bilateral degenerative joint disease of the knees,
unspecified peripheral neuropathy of the hands, borderline
intellectual functioning, major depression/bipolar disorder,
generalized anxiety disorder/panic disorder without
agoraphobia, and ADHD. At Step Three, the ALJ found that Ms.
M was not presumptively disabled after comparing her severe
impairments to the Listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
proceeding to the Step Four analysis, the ALJ determined that
Ms. M retains the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), but never climbing ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds; occasionally climbing ramps or stairs,
stopping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. The ALJ also
found that Ms. M is able to understand, remember, and carry
out instructions for simple, routine tasks; use judgment to
make simple work-related decisions; and frequently respond
appropriately to coworkers and the public. [DE 9 at 27].
Based on this RFC, the ALJ found at Step Four that Ms. M
cannot perform her past relevant work as a hospital cleaner.
At Step Five, however, the ALJ found that Ms. M can perform
other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy, namely marker, router, and collator operator as
defined by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Ms. M has not been under
a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, from
October 1, 2013, through the date of his decision. Ms. M now
challenges the ALJ’s decision.
Ms. M argues that the ALJ’s RFC determination is not
supported by substantial evidence alleging that the ALJ did
not properly weigh the medical opinions of record and
therefore impermissibly “played doctor” resulting
in error harmful to her.
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 by may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir.
2007). Thus, substantial evidence is simply “such