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Monica M. v. Saul

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

October 10, 2019

MONICA M.[1], Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, 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, Monica M., on July 19, 2018. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Monica M., filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on December 22, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of September 15, 2013. (Tr. 10). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Monica M.'s application initially on March 13, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on July 21, 2015. (Tr. 10). Monica M. subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on September 9, 2015. (Tr. 10). A hearing was held on January 23, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) David R. Bruce, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 17, 2017. (Tr. 10-24). Vocational Expert (VE) Julie Bose appeared and testified at the hearing. (Tr. 10). The Appeals Council denied review making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).

         Monica M. met the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2018. (Tr. 12). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Monica M. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 15, 2013, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 13).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Monica M. had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease of the back. (Tr. 13). The ALJ found that the medically determinable impairments significantly limited Monica M.'s ability to perform basic work activities. (Tr. 13).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Monica M. 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. 14). The ALJ determined that Monica M. did not manifest clinical signs and findings that met the specific criteria of any listing. (Tr. 14). Specifically, the ALJ considered the criteria for listings 1.02, 1.04, 12.02, and 12.04. (Tr. 14).

         The ALJ found that Monica M.'s mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.02 and 12.04. (Tr. 14). 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. 14). 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. 14).

         The ALJ determined that Monica M. had mild limitations in understanding, remembering, or applying information; a moderate limitation in interacting with others; moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and mild limitations adapting or managing herself. (Tr. 14-15). Because Monica M.'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. 16). Additionally, the ALJ determined that Monica M. did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 16). The ALJ also noted that no State agency psychological consultant had concluded that a mental listing was medically equaled. (Tr. 16).

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then assessed Monica M.'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). She can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She can push and pull as much as she can lift and carry. She can sit six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can stand and/or walk six hours out of an eight-hour workday. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs, but she can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. At most, she can perform simple routine tasks and make simple work-related decisions. She can occasionally respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and the public.

(Tr. 16). The ALJ explained that in considering Monica M.'s symptoms he followed a two-step process. (Tr. 17). 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 Monica M.'s pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 17). Then he evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Monica M.'s functioning. (Tr. 17).

         After considering the evidence, the ALJ found that Monica M.'s medically determinable impairments reasonably could be expected to produce her alleged symptoms. (Tr. 18). However, her statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. (Tr. 18). The ALJ concluded that the ...


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