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Kathleen R. v. Saul

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

January 8, 2020

KATHLEEN R., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH S. VAN BOKKELEN, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kathleen R. seeks judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits and asks this Court to remand the case. For the reasons below, the Court reverses the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under Title II. In her application, Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on August 1, 2015. After a video hearing on August 8, 2017, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis of the knees, degenerative disc disease of the spine, hypertension, asthma, obesity, and affective disorders including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. (AR 14). The ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (AR 23). However, the ALJ did find that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (AR 23). Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled from August 1, 2015, through October 26, 2017, the date of the ALJ's decision. (AR 24). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court has authority to review the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court will ensure that the ALJ built an “accurate and logical bridge” from evidence to conclusion. Thomas v. Colvin, 745 F.3d 802, 806 (7th Cir. 2014). This requires the ALJ to “confront the [plaintiff's] evidence” and “explain why it was rejected.” Thomas v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 953, 961 (7th Cir. 2016). The Court will uphold decisions that apply the correct legal standard and are supported by substantial evidence. Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). Evidence is substantial if “a reasonable mind might accept [it] as adequate to support [the ALJ's] conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         DISABILITY STANDARD

         The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry in evaluating claims for disability benefits under the Social Security Act:

(1) Whether the claimant is currently employed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment is one that the Commissioner considers conclusively disabling; (4) if the claimant does not have a conclusively disabling impairment, whether he can perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is capable of performing any work in the national economy.

Kastner v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 642, 646 (7th Cir. 2012). The claimant bears the burden of proof at every step except step five. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by assigning only little weight to the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Conrardy. Plaintiff notes that Dr. Conrardy's opinion would limit Plaintiff to sedentary work, which, due to Plaintiff's age, would mandate a finding of disability.

         Although an ALJ need only “minimally articulate” her reasons for discounting a medical opinion, Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 416 (7th Cir. 2008), she must provide “specific, legitimate reasons constituting good cause” before rejecting the opinion. Knight v. Chater, 55 F.3d 309, 313 (7th Cir. 1995). An ALJ may, for instance, discount an opinion that lacks medical findings to corroborate such allegations, Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 416 (7th Cir. 2008), especially if the opinion appears to be based solely on the plaintiff's “subjective complaints.” Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 371 (7th Cir. 2004).

         The ALJ stated that Dr. Conrardy's opinion appeared to be based on Plaintiff's subjective complaints and report to the examiner. The ALJ further noted that the clinical evaluation revealed that Plaintiff walked with a normal gait and did not use any cane or assistive device, strength was 5/5 in Plaintiff's extremities, sensory was grossly intact to touch but there was occasional numbness in the left leg, and Plaintiff had full range of motion of the spine and extremity joints. (AR 20 (citing AR 339)). Plaintiff identifies that ...


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