United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Anglemyer applied for social security disability insurance
benefits and supplemental security income, alleging that he
is unable to work primarily due to degenerative disc disease,
mild arthritis in his right hand, depression, personality
disorder, and arterial occlusion. Mr. Anglemyer filed this
appeal, asking the Court to reverse the ALJ's decision
and remand for further proceedings based on alleged errors
with the residual functional capacity assessment. The
Commissioner filed a response in opposition, and Mr.
Anglemyer filed a reply. The Court finds that the ALJ
improperly evaluated medical opinion evidence demonstrating
Mr. Anglemyer's difficulties with concentration and
social interactions. Remand is required for these reasons.
he stopped working in 2011, Mr. Anglemyer worked as a welder.
Mr. Anglemyer suffers from degenerative disc disease, mild
arthritis of the right hand, history of a seizure disorder,
history of peripheral vascular disease/left lower extremity
occlusion; hernia; coronary artery disease;
depression/bipolar disorder; personality disorder; and,
anxiety/posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”)
(20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c)). The ALJ found these
impairments to be severe. Mr. Anglemyer also had a variety of
impairments that the ALJ found to be nonsevere, including
diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea,
restless leg syndrome, hyperlipidemia, high cholesterol,
GERD, esophagitis, diverticulitis, anal fissure, hip pain,
paranoid schizophrenia, and periods of abdominal pain and/or
rectal bleeding. (R. 1236-38). Mr. Anglemyer was treated for
his mental impairments at Northeastern Center from 2010
through his date last insured, where the records reveal an
ongoing attempt to identify the most effective medication and
medication amounts. A 2012 report from Northeastern Center
noted his diagnoses as severe depressed bipolar disorder
without psychotic features, primary insomnia, and borderline
personality disorder. The report noted that Mr. Anglemyer had
frequent and severe mood swings leaning more towards
depression, and that he was easily offended and irritable
with fears and worries about abandonment. The report stated
Mr. Anglemyer was impulsive and had been suicidal. Finally,
the report noted that although Mr. Anglemyer has done better
at times, it was never significantly better and he had no
periods of remission.
Anglemyer attended a consultative mental status exam at the
request of the Disability Determination Bureau in January
2013. At this exam, Mr. Anglemyer was noted to be irritable,
with poor concentration, feelings of worthlessness,
psychomotor agitation, loss of interest, and thoughts of
dying. The consultative examiner indicated that Mr. Anglemyer
suffered from an anxiety disorder with limited insight into
his own behavior. The consultative examiner opined that Mr.
Anglemyer would need support from others to accomplish daily
tasks. The consultative examiner diagnosed chronic PTSD and
recurrent major depressive disorder.
Anglemyer first applied for benefits in 2009. The ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision, and the District Court for the
Northern District of Indiana affirmed the ALJ's decision
on April 2, 2014. While these first applications were pending
in court on appeal, Mr. Anglemyer filed a new application for
benefits in November 2012, alleging disability since July 23,
2011. The ALJ found him to be not disabled in November 2013,
and Mr. Anglemyer requested a review by the Appeals Council.
The Appeals Council vacated the November 2013 decision and
instructed the ALJ to discuss medical opinion evidence and to
determine the RFC in light of Mr. Anglemyer's use of a
cane. The ALJ held a second hearing in August 2014, and, on
November 12, 2014, the ALJ again found Mr. Anglemyer to be
not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Anglemyer's
request for review on January 27, 2016, and Mr. Anglemyer
filed a civil action under cause number 3:16-cv-167,
challenging the November 12, 2014 decision. On August 15,
2017, the Court issued an opinion and order remanding Mr.
Anglemyer's second case for further proceedings. On
September 14, 2017, the Appeals Council remanded the case to
the ALJ for further proceedings.
March 6, 2018, the ALJ conducted a new hearing. He issued a
new decision on April 26, 2018. In this decision, the ALJ
made the following residual functional capacity:
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find
that, through the date last insured, the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a), with frequent fingering,
gripping, and fine manipulation with the dominant right
extremity. Could occasionally climb stairs and ramps. Never
climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds with occasional
balancing, occasional stooping, kneeling, but no crouching or
crawling. The Claimant needed to avoid concentrated exposure
to extreme cold, extreme heat, humidity, excessive vibration,
and wet and slippery surfaces. He must also have avoided
concentrated exposure to driving forklifts, trucks, the
operational control of dangerous moving machinery, and to
unprotected heights. Mentally, the claimant had the capacity
to perform work within a low stress job requiring only
occasional decision-making. He could meet production
requirements allowing one to sustain a flexible and
goal-oriented pace with no interaction with the general
public, and occasional interaction with co-workers and
supervisors other than what is necessary for instruction and
task completion. He should not have been exposed to intense
or critical supervision, and would have worked best alone or
(R. 1242). Finding that Mr. Anglemyer could have performed
other work in the economy, the ALJ found that Mr. Anglemyer
was not disabled. The Appeals Council declined review, and
Mr. Anglemyer 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, 40191 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (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