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Anglemyer v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

November 8, 2019

JAMIE ANGLEMYER, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Jamie 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.

         I. Factual Background

         Until 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         On 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 in semi-isolation.

(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.

         II. Standard of Review

         Because 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).

         The ALJ 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).

         III. Standard for Disability

         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 ...


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