United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
KENDRA M. CLARK, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON, JUDGE
Clark has appealed from an administrative law judge's
denial of her application for Social Security disability
benefits claiming that the ALJ committed four errors which
require a reversal of his decision. But I will limit my
discussion to two: whether the ALJ erred in evaluating
Clark's subjective symptoms and whether the ALJ properly
assessed Clark's fatigue and its impact on her ability to
function. Because I find that the ALJ erred in both the
subjective symptom analysis and in failing to consider
Clark's fatigue, I will reverse the ALJ's decision
and remand the case.
began his analysis by determining that Clark had the severe
impairment of multiple sclerosis. [A.R. 18.] The ALJ also
found that Clark also had a variety of non-severe
impairments, including hyperlipidemia, hyperpigmentation with
itching consistent with brachioradial pruritus, and diabetes.
But the ALJ determined that Clark did not meet any of the
applicable social security listings for disability.
Specifically, the ALJ examined listing 11.09 (muscular
sclerosis) and found that she did not meet or equal the
requirements for that listing.
next step, the ALJ determined Clark's residual functional
capacity (RFC). He determined that Clark should be limited to
light work, subject to several additional limitations
including occasionally lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling
20 pounds and frequently doing those things with 10 pounds;
standing and/or walking 4 hours in an 8-hour workday; sitting
6 hours in an 8-hour workday; frequently climbing stairs and
ramps; and never climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [A.R.
20.] The ALJ also found that she could frequently balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but must avoid concentrated
exposure to dangerous machinery and unprotected heights.
[Id.] The ALJ further limited the work she could
perform to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, as well as
a work environment with few or no more than routine workplace
tells me that he based the RFC on his review of Clark's
testimony and the submitted evidence. In particular, the ALJ
considered Clark's symptoms, the objective medical
evidence, and the opinion evidence. [Id.] The
ALJ's description of the medical evidence can be found in
his written decision, [see A.R. 20-23], and I need
not repeat them here.
then posed the RFC and some additional hypothetical questions
to a vocational expert (VE) who testified whether such a
hypothetical person with Clark's RFC could likely find
gainful employment. The ALJ determined that Clark was unable
to perform her past relevant work as an Insurance Policy
Writer either as actually performed or as generally
performed. [A.R. 24.] However, he found that she could
perform the jobs of Routing Clerk, Ticket Taker, or Office
Helper, all of which exist in large numbers in the national
economy. As a result, the ALJ found that Clark was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and
start with some basics about my role as district court judge
in reviewing appeals from the Social Security Administration.
The role is a limited one. I do not review evidence and
determine whether a claimant is disabled and entitled to
benefits. Instead, I review the ALJ's written decision to
determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards
and whether the decision's factual determinations are
supported by substantial evidence. Shideler v.
Astrue, 688 F.3d 306, 310 (7th Cir. 2012). If
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's factual findings,
they are conclusive. Id.; 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
Supreme Court has set a low bar for what constitutes
“substantial evidence.” It means more than a
“scintilla” of evidence, but less than a
preponderance of the evidence. Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). “Evidence is
substantial if a reasonable person would accept it as
adequate to support the conclusion.” Young v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). My review
is guided by the principle that while “[t]he ALJ is not
required to address every piece of evidence or testimony
presented, but must provide a ‘logical bridge'
between the evidence and the conclusions so that [I] 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). Given this modest standard, the review is a light one.
But, of course, I cannot “simply rubber-stamp the
Commissioner's decision without a critical review of the
evidence.” Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863,
869 (7th Cir. 2000). “[T]he decision cannot stand if it
lacks evidentiary support or an adequate discussion of the
issues.” Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart,
425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Lopez ex rel.
Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003)).
argues that the ALJ improperly dismissed her subjective
symptoms which she testified to at length and which, if
believed, paint a picture of a seriously disabled woman.
Historically, courts do not overturn an ALJ's subjective
symptom analysis unless it is “patently wrong.”
Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413-14 (7th Cir.
2008). However, “a failure to adequately explain his or
her [subjective symptoms] finding by discussing specific
reasons supported by the record is grounds for
reversal.” Minnick v. Colvin, 775 F.3d 929,
937 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Terry v. Astrue, 580
F.3d 471, 47 (7th Cir. 2009)); Brindisi v. Barnhart,
315 F.3d 783, 787-88 (7th Cir. 2003); Salaiz v.
Colvin, 202 F.Supp.3d 887, 893 (N.D. Ind. 2016). The
ALJ's determination “must contain specific reasons
for the weight given to the individual's symptoms, be
consistent with and supported by the evidence, and be clearly
articulated so the individual and any subsequent reviewer can
assess how the adjudicator evaluated the individual's
symptoms.” SSR 16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, at *9 (Mar. 16,
the ALJ focused on Clark's daily activities and noted
that she reported the ability to perform personal care,
prepare meals, complete light household chores, drive, manage
finances, socialize with others, and shop. [A.R. 22.] The ALJ
concluded that “[t]he function reports generally show
that while the claimant reports limitations, she had a fairly
active lifestyle that is inconsistent with allegations of
disability.” [Id.] This was misleading. In
fact, a review of the function reports would lead a
reasonable person to conclude that calling Clark
“fairly active” is a stretch.
starters, the Seventh Circuit has repeatedly instructed ALJs
to not place “undue weight” on daily activities
when assessing a claimant's subjective symptoms. Moss
v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 562 (7th Cir. 2009). Moreover,
the ALJ should explain any purported inconsistencies between
the claimant's daily activities, subjective complaints,
and the medical evidence in the record. Zurawski v.
Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). A rote
listing of activities does not cut it. Instead, the ALJ must
provide an explanation as to how the daily
activities are inconsistent with a claimant's subjective
symptoms. Nelson v. Colvin, 2016 WL 337143, at *6
(N.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016) (“The mere listing of daily
activities does not establish that a claimant does not suffer
disabling pain and is capable of engaging in substantial
here simply catalogued Clark's daily activities, and then
summarily concluded that her “active lifestyle”
was inconsistent with a finding of disability. The ALJ failed
to discuss which symptoms were inconsistent with the daily
activities, but more concerningly, the ALJ failed to consider
the manner in which the Plaintiff completed her daily
activities. The ALJ cites to four function reports from Clark
and her mother to support his findings regarding her daily
activities. In those function reports, Clark details her
activities of daily living, noting that her fatigue was the
most limiting symptom in her daily activities. While Clark
stated that she could make her own meals, she reported making
“sandwiches, frozen dinners, vegetables, and hamburger
helper, ” and that sometimes she is too tired to cook
even those simple meals for herself. [A.R. 269.] Her mother
corroborated this, noting that Clark “eats a lot of
prepared foods.” [A.R. 324.] Clark also noted that
although she was ...