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Tatjana E. v. Saul

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

November 15, 2019

TATJANA E.[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, Tatjana E., on October 23, 2018. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Tatjana E., filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on June 10, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of December 9, 2014. (Tr. 15). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Tatjana E.'s application initially on August 19, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on January 6, 2016. (Tr. 15). Tatjana E. subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on January 27, 2016. (Tr. 15). A hearing was held on September 15, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Robert Long, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on December 28, 2017. (Tr. 15-22). Vocational Expert (VE) Mia Heikkila appeared at the hearing. (Tr. 15). The Appeals Council denied review making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         Tatjana E. meets the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2020. (Tr. 17). At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Tatjana E. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 9, 2014, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 17).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Tatjana E. had the following severe impairments: major depressive disorder with psychotic features, psychosis, and anxiety. (Tr. 17). The ALJ found that the medically determinable impairments significantly limited Tatjana E.'s ability to perform basic work activities. (Tr. 17). Tatjana E. also alleged a disability due to high blood pressure. (Tr. 17). However, the ALJ found that Tatjana E.'s high blood pressure was well-controlled and caused no more than a minimal limitation on her ability to engage in basic work activities. (Tr. 17).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Tatjana E. 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. 18). The ALJ determined that Tatjana E.'s mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria in listings 12.03, 12.04, or 12.06. (Tr. 18). 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. 18). The ALJ indicated that a marked limitation means the ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis is seriously limited and that an extreme limitation is the inability to function independently, appropriately, or effectively, and on a sustained basis. (Tr. 18).

         The ALJ concluded that Tatjana E. 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. 18). Because Tatjana E.'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. 18). Additionally, the ALJ determined that Tatjana E. did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 18).

         After consideration of the entire record, the ALJ then assessed Tatjana E.'s residual functional capacity (RFC) as follows:

[T]he claimant has no physical limitations, but, due to concentration deficits secondary to mental impairments and fatigue, should not perform work that involves an hourly or less quota requirement. Furthermore, she is limited to work with no contact with the public and only occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers.

(Tr. 19). The ALJ explained that in considering Tatjana E.'s symptoms he followed a two-step process. (Tr. 19). 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 Tatjana E.'s pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 19). Then he evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Tatjana E.'s functioning. (Tr. 19).

         Tatjana E. alleged that she was disabled, in part, because of her depression and anxiety. (Tr. 19). The ALJ found that after considering the evidence Tatjana E.'s medically determinable impairments reasonably could be expected to produce her alleged symptoms. (Tr. 19). 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. 19). The ALJ considered the opinions of the State agency consultants who found that Tatjana E.'s mental impairments were non-severe. (Tr. 20). However, the ALJ concluded that the opinions were entitled ...


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