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Amy S. v. Saul

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

December 30, 2019

AMY S.[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, Amy S., on September 6, 2018. For the following reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is REMANDED.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Amy S., filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on May 8, 2015, alleging a disability onset date of May 6, 2015. (Tr. 18). The Disability Determination Bureau denied Amy S.'s application initially on July 23, 2015, and again upon reconsideration on September 11, 2015. (Tr. 18). Amy S. subsequently filed a timely request for a hearing on November 6, 2015. (Tr. 18). Amy S. failed to attend the initial hearing scheduled for January 17, 2017. (Tr. 18). After a Notice to Show Cause was sent to Amy S. and she responded, another hearing was scheduled. (Tr. 18). A video hearing was held on June 16, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Diane S. Davis, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 9, 2017. (Tr. 18-35). Vocational Expert (VE) Pamela Tucker appeared at the hearing. (Tr. 18). 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 Amy S. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 8, 2015, her application date. (Tr. 20).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Amy S. had the following severe impairments: lumbar spondylosis, psychogenic non-epileptic seizure disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Tr. 21). The ALJ found that the above medically determinable impairments significantly limited Amy S.'s ability to perform basic work activities. (Tr. 21). Amy S. also alleged disability due to May-Thurner syndrome, insomnia, and rheumatoid arthritis. (Tr. 21). However, the ALJ found that Amy S.'s May-Thurner syndrome and insomnia caused no more than a minimal limitation on her ability to engage in basic work activities and were non-severe impairments. (Tr. 21-22). Furthermore, the ALJ determined that Amy S.'s rheumatoid arthritis was not a medically determinable impairment. (Tr. 22).

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Amy S. 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. 23). The ALJ stated that no medical evidence indicated diagnostic findings that satisfied any listed impairment. (Tr. 23). The ALJ considered Amy S.'s mental impairments, singly and in combination, against the criteria in listings 12.02, 12.06, 12.07, and 12.15. (Tr. 23). 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 themselves.

(Tr. 23). 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. 23).

         The ALJ determined that Amy S. 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 mild limitations in adapting or managing herself. (Tr. 23-24). Because Amy S.'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. 25). Additionally, the ALJ determined that Amy S. did not satisfy the paragraph C criteria. (Tr. 25).

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

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform LIGHT work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b). The claimant can lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She can sit for about six hours total in an eight-hour workday. She can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, or work at unprotected heights. She should also avoid exposure to dangerous moving machinery. The claimant can understand, remember, and carry out simple, routine tasks, make simple, work-related decisions, and adapt to routine workplace changes. She can work in proximity to others and tolerate occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers, and brief, incidental contact with the public. She can persist in such activities, with adequate pace and perseverance.

(Tr. 25). The ALJ explained that in considering Amy S.'s symptoms she followed a two-step process. (Tr. 26). 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 Amy S.'s pain or other symptoms. (Tr. 26). Then she evaluated the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the symptoms to determine the extent to which they limited Amy S.'s functioning. (Tr. 26).

         After considering the evidence, the ALJ found that Amy S.'s medically determinable impairments reasonably could be expected to produce her alleged symptoms. (Tr. 26). 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. 26-27). The ALJ assigned some weight to the state physical evaluators, little weight to the state psychological evaluators, little weight to the treating neurologist, Dr. Julian Ungar-Sargon, and little weight to the third-party reports of her mother (Kathleen Mears), her best friend ...


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