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Hattie P. v. Saul

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

December 18, 2019

HATTIE P.[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, Hattie P., on January 24, 2019. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Hattie P., filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on November 21, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of November 21, 2013. (Tr. 15). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Hattie P.'s application initially on July 23, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on February 17, 2015. (Tr. 15). Hattie P. subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing, but she failed to appear for her scheduled hearing and her case was dismissed on March 14, 2017. (Tr. 15). The Appeals Council ordered the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Michelle Whetsel, to give Hattie P. another opportunity for a hearing on June 16, 2017. (Tr. 15). A video hearing was held on January 3, 2018 before ALJ Whetsel, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on January 24, 2018. (Tr. 15-29). Vocational Expert (VE) Clifford M. Brady appeared at the hearing via teleconference. (Tr. 15). The Appeals Council denied review making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).

         At step one of the five-step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is disabled, the ALJ found that Hattie P. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 21, 2013, the application date. (Tr. 17).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Hattie P. had the following severe impairments: borderline intellectual functioning, anxiety, depression, and obesity. (Tr. 17). The ALJ found that the medically determinable impairments significantly limited Hattie P.'s ability to perform basic work activities. (Tr. 17). The ALJ also determined that Hattie P. had the following non-severe impairments: strep throat, knee pain, diabetes mellitus with diabetic neuropathy, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, chronic bronchitis, and migraines. (Tr. 18). However, the ALJ found that these impairments did not cause more than a minimal limitation on her ability to perform basic work activities, and therefore were non-severe. (Tr. 18).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Hattie P. 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).

         Although no longer a listed impairment, the ALJ considered Hattie P.'s obesity in relation to the musculoskeletal, respiratory, and cardiovascular body systems listings, as required by SSR 02-1p. (Tr. 18). Next, the ALJ considered the severity of Hattie P.'s mental impairments. (Tr. 18). The ALJ found that Hattie P.'s mental impairments, considered singly and in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.02, 12.04, 12.05, and 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, while an extreme limitation is the inability to function independently, appropriately, or effectively, and on a sustained basis. (Tr. 18).

         The ALJ determined that Hattie P. had moderate limitations in understanding, remembering, or applying information; a moderate limitation in interacting with others; moderate limitations in concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and moderate limitations adapting or managing herself. (Tr. 19-20). Because Hattie P.'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. 20). Additionally, the ALJ determined that Hattie P. did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 20). Furthermore, the ALJ concluded that Hattie P. did not have the adaptive defects necessary to meet listing 12.05. (Tr. 21).

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

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except the claimant can lift and carry fifty pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently. The claimant can sit for six hours and stand and/or walk for six hours in a standard workday. The claimant can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, but cannot climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant can remember and follow simple, but not detailed instructions. The claimant can perform the tasks assigned, but not always at a production rate pace; she can however, meet her end of day work goals. The claimant can have occasional contact with coworkers, supervisors, and the general public. The claimant can occasionally adapt to rapid changes in the workplace.

(Tr. 21). The ALJ explained that in considering Hattie P.'s symptoms she followed a two-step process. (Tr. 22). First, she 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 Hattie P.'s pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 22). Then she evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Hattie P.'s functioning. (Tr. 22).

         Hattie P. alleged that she was disabled from any and all work secondary to her impairments. (Tr. 22). After considering the evidence, the ALJ found that Hattie P.'s medically determinable impairments reasonably could be expected to produce her alleged symptoms. (Tr. 22). 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. 22).

         The ALJ assigned some weight to the opinions of the State agency medical consultants who opined that Hattie P. could perform work at the medium exertional level. (Tr. 25). The ALJ found that limiting Hattie P. to work at a medium level was consistent with the medical record. (Tr. 25). The medical record reflected that Hattie P. had engaged in little treatment for chronic medical impairments and that she had few limitations during her consultative examination. (Tr. 25). The ALJ assigned some weight to medical consultative examiner, Dr. J. Bartlett, D.O. (Tr. 25). After examining Hattie P., Dr. Bartlett found that she could sit for as long as she wanted and stand for a long period of time. (Tr. 25). He also found that she could lift and handle objects and that her eyesight was unimpeded. (Tr. 25). The ALJ afforded little weight to the opinion of treating physician, Dr. R. Roberts, M.D., because it was inconsistent with the record as a whole. (Tr. 26).

         Furthermore, the ALJ afforded some weight to the State agency psychological experts who opined that Hattie P. had some mental limitations but that she was still capable of performing tasks. (Tr. 26). The ALJ gave some weight to the opinion of Hattie P.'s most recent psychological examiner, Dr. J, Polczinksi, Psy.D., and little weight to her prior psychological examiner, Dr. A. Taylor, Ph.D. (Tr. 26). The ALJ also afforded some weight to the opinion of Hattie P.'s treating psychiatrist, Dr. P. Varghese, M.D. (Tr. 27). The ALJ indicated that the RFC was supported by the objective medical evidence, the opinions of the State agency consultants, ...


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