Reynolds v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER: REVERSING and REMANDING case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. The Clerk is directed to enter a judgment in favor of Reynolds and against the Commissioner. Signed by Magistrate Judge Roger B Cosbey on 10/15/2014. (lhc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
FORT WAYNE DIVISION
MICHAEL L. REYNOLDS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
CAUSE NO. 1:13-CV-00329
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Michael Reynolds appeals to the district court from a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application under the Social
Security Act (the “Act”) for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”).1 (See Docket # 1.) For the following reasons, the
Commissioner’s decision will be REVERSED, and the case will be REMANDED to the
Commissioner for further proceedings in accordance with this Opinion.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Reynolds applied for DIB and SSI in August 2012, alleging disability as of January 16,
2012. (Tr. 91-97.) The Commissioner denied his application initially and upon reconsideration.
(Tr. 41-42, 59-61, 64-66.) After a timely request (Tr. 57-58), a hearing was held on June 20,
2013, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Terry Miller, at which Reynolds, who was
represented by counsel; his wife; and a vocational expert testified (Tr. 590-650). On July 3,
2013, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Reynolds, concluding that he was not
All parties have consented to the Magistrate Judge. (Docket # 16); see 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).
disabled because he could perform a significant number of jobs in the economy despite the
limitations caused by his impairments. (Tr. 25-36.) The Appeals Council denied his request for
review, at which point the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 69.)
Reynolds filed a complaint with this Court on November 15, 2013, seeking relief from
the Commissioner’s final decision. (Docket # 1.) In this appeal, Reynolds alleges that the ALJ:
(1) assigned a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) that is not supported by substantial evidence;
(2) improperly assessed the medical source opinions, including Dr. Bacchus’s; (3) failed to
consider the combined impact of his impairments; (4) improperly discounted the credibility of
his symptom testimony; and (5) failed to cite a significant number of jobs at step five. (Pl.’s Br.
in Supp. of Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner of Social Security 11-25.)
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND2
At the time of the ALJ’s decision, Reynolds was forty-nine years old (Tr. 91); had a high
school education and one year of college (Tr. 110, 598); and had work experience as a material
handler, production supervisor, and stocker (Tr. 111, 211). He alleges that he became disabled
due to coronary artery disease, fibromyalgia, and anxiety. (Tr. 110, 119, 121, 167, 609-10.)
B. Reynolds’s Testimony at the Hearing
At the hearing, Reynolds, who was five feet ten inches tall and weighed approximately
245 pounds, testified that he lives with his wife and adult child in a one-story home. (Tr. 59697.) Reynolds is independent with his self care, but his wife performs most of the household
In the interest of brevity, this Opinion recounts only the portions of the 650-page administrative record
necessary to the decision.
chores and manages their finances. (Tr. 626-28, 630.) He drives a car, visits the library on his
own, and occasionally attends his grandson’s soccer games (Tr. 597-98, 631); after attending an
hour-long game, he goes home to bed (Tr. 631). His daily routine involves caring for pets,
playing computer games, napping, watching sports, and reading. (Tr. 626-27.) He plays with his
grandchildren while lying on the couch or sitting in a lawn chair. (Tr. 629-30.)
As to his physical problems, Reynolds complained of chronic muscular pain due to
fibromyalgia and shortness of breath after walking one block. (Tr. 606-08.) He can “walk a little
bit” and stand or sit for ten minutes (Tr. 614, 616-17, 633); if he mows the yard, it takes him
three or four days to recover (Tr. 614). If he picks something up, he is afraid he will drop it; he
feels he is losing grip strength. (Tr. 618-19, 637.)
Reynolds stated that his pain is from “head to toe,” “never, ever lets up,” and “the bigger
the muscle, the more pain involved.” (Tr. 611; see also Tr. 614, 616-17, 636.) He described it as
intense, extreme, achy, burning, aching, throbbing, or stabbing in nature. (Tr. 633-35.) On a
scale of one to ten, he rated his hip pain a “seven” and his back pain an “eight.” (Tr. 635-36.) He
testified that most of his prescribed medications were not effective; only Tramadol “scrapes the
edge of the pain to where it’s more easily manageable.” (Tr. 612-13.)
As to his mental symptoms, Reynolds complained of significant “fibro fog” causing him
difficulty with concentration and memory. (Tr. 614-15; 622-23.) He sometimes cannot recall if
he took his medications. (Tr. 623.) He also asserted that although he has always suffered from
anxiety and depression, his symptoms have significantly worsened since the onset of his physical
problems (Tr. 620-22). He takes Clonazepam for anxiety, but nothing for depression (Tr. 621,
624); he characterized his anxiety problems as “three times worse than [his] depression” (Tr.
624). Reynolds stated that although his anxiety medications work pretty well, he is still easily
angered and at times can feel “almost out of control” (Tr. 621, 623-24), especially when he is out
in public or thinking about finances (Tr. 621).3
C. Summary of the Relevant Medical Evidence
In January 2012, Reynolds had a myocardial infarction; he then underwent cardiac
catheterization with stenting of the right coronary artery, followed by cardiac rehabilitation. (Tr.
223-24, 258, 261, 280-81, 346, 501, 554.) The following month, Dr. Basil Genetos, a
cardiologist, noted that Reynolds continued to have a lot of fatigue, as well as arthralgias of
uncertain etiology. (Tr. 341-42.) A March 2012 perfusion study was abnormal, showing left
ventricular cavity dilation and evidence of previous infarction of the inferior wall. (Tr. 280-81.)
Reynolds was readmitted on March 21, 2012, for progressive angina secondary to his
underlying multi vessel coronary atherosclerosis. (Tr. 304.) Cardiac catheterization showed
occlusion of a branch of the right coronary artery (Tr. 304), but this was of no consequence (Tr.
On April 2, 2012, Dr. W. Wilson, a cardiologist, noted that Reynolds reported marked
daytime fatigue, increased leg fatigue during cardiac rehab, joint pain, and lack of energy. (Tr.
338-39.) He adjusted Reynolds’s medications. (Tr. 339.) Similarly, on April 7, Dr. Genetos
documented that Reynolds reported profound fatigue and muscle aches since his myocardial
infarction. (Tr. 334.) He further adjusted Reynolds’s medications in the event they were causing
his symptoms. (Tr. 334.) On May 1, Dr. Genetos observed that Reynolds had recovered well
from a cardiac perspective with no ongoing cardiac symptoms; accordingly, he released him to
Reynolds’s wife also testified at the hearing, essentially corroborating his testimony. (Tr. 640-42.)
return to work. (Tr. 328-29.) He noted, however, that Reynolds reported constant noncardiac
chest pain and diffuse myalgias, arthralgias, and fatigue; and thus, would probably see Dr. Sean
Brennan in the near future for evaluation of those symptoms. (Tr. 329.)
The following month, Reynolds was evaluated by Dr. Kenneth Smith, a rheumotologist.
(Tr. 365-68.) He noted that Reynolds moved slowly and stiffly, but a musculoskeletal exam was
unremarkable except for moderate tenderness over the sacrum and posterior pelvic brim. (Tr.
367.) Otherwise, his muscles were nontender, and his grip and muscle strength were normal.
(Tr. 367.) Dr. Smith found no physical evidence of any inflammatory rheumatic disease to
account for Reynolds’s complaints, but thought he “may have an element of fibromyalgia.” (Tr.
On May 21, 2012, Dr. Brennan noted that Reynolds reported continued muscle pain and
difficulty working. (Tr. 378.) He prescribed Cymbalta, but later switched him to Lyrica. (Tr.
378, 448.) On July 27, 2012, Dr. Brennan noted that Reynolds’s condition was worsening and
that Lyrica had not helped. (Tr. 447.)
Reynolds saw Dr. Garland Anderson on July 31, 2012, reporting that he was having
difficulty working as a night shift stocker due to his pain. (432.) Dr. Anderson noted multiple
areas with pain and tenderness upon motion and palpation. (Tr. 433.) He ordered further testing,
adjusted Reynolds’s medications, and recommended he stay off work for the time being. (Tr.
434.) In August, Dr. Anderson indicated that the medications were not working and that
Reynolds remained off work. (Tr. 429-30.) In September, Dr. Anderson wrote that Reynolds had
decreased range of motion and pain in multiple areas. (Tr. 425, 427.) In October, Dr. Anderson
reported that Reynolds continued to have fatigue, insomnia, back pain, myalgia, gait problems,
arthralgia, agitation, and decreased concentration; he referred to Reynolds’s fibromyalgia as
“severe and incapacitating.” (Tr. 416.)
On October 31, 2012, Dr. M. Bhat examined Reynolds on referral from Dr. Anderson.
(Tr. 395-97.) Dr. Bhat noted diffuse tenderness in Reynolds’s arms and legs, but normal
strength, coordination, and gait. (Tr. 396.) He concluded there was no evidence of primary
muscle disease and that Reynolds’s muscle pain represented fibromyalgia. (Tr. 396.) He
adjusted Reynolds’s medications and recommended he participate in vocational rehabilitation.
On November 2, 2012, Amanda Mayle, Psy.D., examined Reynolds on behalf of the
Social Security Administration. (Tr. 400-03.) Dr. Mayle observed an anxious mood, irritable
affect, pressured and tangential speech, rapid thought process with flight of ideas, and an
inability to perform serial sevens. (Tr. 402-03.) She opined that Reynolds had significant mood
and behavioral instability that was affecting his functioning. (Tr. 402.) She assigned a Global
Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of 51 and diagnosed him with generalized anxiety
disorder and major depressive disorder.4 (Tr. 402-03.)
On November 5, 2012, Dr. H. Bacchus examined Reynolds on behalf of the Social
Security Administration. (Tr. 404-07.) Dr. Bacchus observed coarse breath sounds; a slow and
somewhat stiff gait; poor to fair gait sustainability on even ground; squatting limited to one-third
GAF scores reflect a clinician’s judgment about the individual’s overall level of functioning. American
Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 32 (4th ed., Text Rev. 2000). A GAF
score of 41 to 50 reflects serious symptoms (e.g., suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent shoplifting)
or any serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., no friends, unable to keep a job). Id.
A GAF score of 51 to 60 reflects moderate symptoms (e.g., flat affect and circumstantial speech, occasional panic
attacks) or moderate difficulty in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., few friends, conflicts with peers or
down with support and arising slowly; decreased muscle strength and tone in all extremities;
decreased grip strength; slow dexterity; some difficulty with heel, toe, and tandem walk; an
inability to hop; limited range of motion in his neck, low back, right shoulder, knees, right ankle,
and right hip; straight leg raising of forty-five degrees on the right and sixty on the left; and mild
diffuse tenderness to palpation in all extremities, lower back, and sacrum. (Tr. 405.) He also
noted that Reynolds had a flat affect and anxious mood. (Tr. 405, 407.) Diagnoses included
hypertension; history of single vessel coronary artery disease with myocardial infarction; a
history of angina pectoris; fibromyalgia; and a history of anxiety. (Tr. 406.) Dr. Bacchus
concluded that with cardiac stability, Reynolds “could perhaps perform at least part-time, light
duties, mainly sit-down in nature in a low-stress work environment.” (Tr. 406.)
In November 2012, Dr. Anderson penned a letter stating that Reynolds was “unable to be
gainfully employed” due to both acute and chronic pain syndrome and ongoing chronic pain
management. (Tr. 412.) In December, Dr. Anderson noted that Reynolds had impaired range of
motion, decreased strength, weakness in lower extremities, and severe muscle spasms. (Tr. 409.)
He reiterated that Reynolds was unable to be gainfully employed. (Tr. 410.) On February 1,
2013, Dr. Anderson wrote that Reynolds was unable to sit, stand, or walk for more than a few
minutes. (Tr. 582.) He observed that Reynolds had multiple pain triggers throughout his body,
weak grip, and limited motion in his back and legs. (Tr. 583.) He again wrote that Reynolds was
unable to be gainfully employed and that there were “multiple reasons for disability.” (Tr. 583.)
Similarly on February 28, 2013, Dr. Anderson documented that Reynolds reported “extreme
pains all over his body,” had numbness of his legs, and was unable to work. (Tr. 575-76.) He
encouraged Reynolds to stop smoking. (Tr. 576.)
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Section 405(g) of the Act grants this Court “the power to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the
[Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Court’s task is limited to determining whether the ALJ’s factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence, which means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005)
(citation omitted). The decision will be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial
evidence or if the ALJ applied an erroneous legal standard. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869
(7th Cir. 2000).
To determine if substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews the entire administrative
record but does not re-weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or
substitute its judgment for the Commissioner’s. Id. Rather, if the findings of the Commissioner
are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive. Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212
(7th Cir. 2003). “In other words, so long as, in light of all the evidence, reasonable minds could
differ concerning whether [the claimant] is disabled, we must affirm the ALJ’s decision denying
benefits.” Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 1996).
A. The Law
Under the Act, a claimant is entitled to DIB or SSI if he establishes an “inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to . . . last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A physical or mental
impairment is “an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(3), 1382c(a)(3)(D).
The Commissioner evaluates disability claims pursuant to a five-step evaluation process,
requiring consideration of the following issues, in sequence: (1) whether the claimant is currently
unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant’s
impairment meets or equals one of the impairments listed by the Commissioner, see 20 C.F.R. §
404, Subpt. P, App. 1; (4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his past work; and (5)
whether the claimant is incapable of performing work in the national economy.5 See Dixon v.
Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. An
affirmative answer leads either to the next step or, on steps three and five, to a finding that the
claimant is disabled. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir. 2001). A negative answer
at any point other than step three stops the inquiry and leads to a finding that the claimant is not
disabled. Id. The burden of proof lies with the claimant at every step except the fifth, where it
shifts to the Commissioner. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.
B. The ALJ’s Decision
On July 13, 2012, the ALJ issued the decision that ultimately became the
Commissioner’s final decision. (Tr. 25-36.) He found at step one of the five-step analysis that
Reynolds had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after his alleged onset date. (Tr. 27.) A
Before performing steps four and five, the ALJ must determine the claimant’s RFC or what tasks the
claimant can do despite his limitations. 20 C.F.R §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(a), 416.920(e), 416.945(a). The RFC is
then used during steps four and five to help determine what, if any, employment the claimant is capable of. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
step two, the ALJ concluded that Reynolds had the following severe impairments: history of
single vessel coronary artery disease/atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, hypertension,
hyperlipidemia, and status post myocardial infarction and stent placement; diffuse myalgias and
arthralgias/fibromyalgia and muscle fatigue; obesity; and generalized anxiety disorder and major
depressive disorder. (Tr. 27-28.) The ALJ determined at step three, however, that Reynolds’s
impairment or combination of impairments were not severe enough to meet a listing. (Tr. 28-29.)
Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Reynolds’s symptom testimony
was not credible to the extent it portrayed limitations in excess of the following RFC:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work . . .
(lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently and, in an eight-hour period, sitting or standing/walking for a total of 6
hours each) except that he needs a sit/stand option (which allows for alternating
between sitting and standing up to every 30 minutes, if needed, but the positional
changes will not render the claimant off task). He cannot climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds at all and he can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He also needs to avoid concentrated exposure to
temperature extremes, humidity, pulmonary irritants (such as fumes, odors, dust,
gases, chemicals, and poorly ventilated areas), and hazards (such as operational
control of dangerous moving machinery, unprotected heights, and
slippery/uneven/moving surfaces). Mentally, the claimant cannot understand,
remember, or carry out detailed or complex job instructions but can perform only
simple, repetitive tasks on a sustained basis (meaning 8 hours per day/5 days per
week or an equivalent full-time work schedule). He cannot perform tasks
involving sudden or unpredictable workplace changes. He must be able to work
at a flexible pace (where the employee is allowed some independence in
determining either the timing of different work activities or the pace of work). He
can have only casual/superficial interactions with others, including supervisors,
co-workers, and the general public. He cannot have exposure to intense or critical
Based on this RFC and the vocational expert’s testimony, the ALJ concluded at step four
that Reynolds was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. 34.) The ALJ then
concluded at step five that Reynolds could perform a significant number of jobs within the
economy, including hand packager, routing clerk, and office helper. (Tr. 35.) Therefore,
Reynolds’s claim for DIB and SSI was denied. (Tr. 35.)
C. The Administrative Record Is Materially Incomplete, and Thus, the Court
Cannot Evaluate Whether the RFC Is Supported by Substantial Evidence
In crafting an RFC for a limited range of light work, the ALJ assigned “greater weight” to
the opinions of the state agency doctors, together with the opinions of treating cardiologist Dr.
Genetos, who released Reynolds to return to work in May 2012; the GAF score of 51 assigned
by examining psychologist Dr. Mayle; and the “low-stress work” limitation articulated by
examining Dr. Bacchus. (Tr. 31.) In doing so, the ALJ indicated that the state agency doctors
found Reynolds could perform a limited range of light work; understand, remember, and carry
out semi-skilled tasks; and relate on at least a superficial basis with coworkers and supervisors.
But the administrative record, which the Commissioner produced in paper form only
(Docket # 13), is incomplete. It does not contain these state agency doctors’ opinions for the
“The administrative record is essential for meaningful judicial review of a decision by the
Commissioner.” McChullough v. Apfel, 95 F. Supp. 2d 956, 957 (S.D. Ind. 2000). In performing
the review, the court “must meticulously examine the record.” Edwards v. Astrue, No. 09-2120CM-GBC, 2010 WL 2787847, at *3 (D. Kan. June 30, 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(collecting cases). “The court has the authority to remand a case for further consideration if it is
unable to exercise meaningful or informed judicial review because of an inadequate
administrative record.” Id. at *4; see DeCoito v. Astrue, No. 1:07-cv-330, 2008 WL 906164, at
*8 (S.D. Ind. Mar. 31, 2008) (remanding case where certain exhibits were missing from the
administrative record, and thus, the court could not “provide meaningful judicial review”).
To clarify, “the court will not remand merely for a ministerial correction.” Edwards,
2010 WL 2787847, at *4 (citation omitted); see Burton v. Barnhart, No. 06-1051-JTM, 2006
WL 4045937, at *4 (D. Kan. Nov. 1, 2006) (“[I]f the missing documents are immaterial to the
ALJ’s decision, or not relied on in his opinion, a remand would not be warranted.”). “The
touchstone is whether the administrative record that does exist permits meaningful review.”
Edwards, 2010 WL 2787847, at *4. “[W]here the ALJ’s findings were derived from information
the Commissioner failed to include in the record before the court, the court is unable to engage in
meaningful judicial review, and the case must be remanded.” Id. (collecting cases); see Garcia v.
Colvin, No. cv 12-06542-MAN, 2014 WL 358396, at *4 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 30, 2014) (remanding
case where the record omitted a physician’s opinion that the ALJ had rejected).
Here, the opinions of the state agency doctors are material to the ALJ’s decision as he
assigned them “greater weight.” (Tr. 31.) He emphasized that these state agency doctors were
“specifically trained in evaluating an individual’s physical and mental condition for the Social
Security Administration’s disability programs, unlike Dr. Anderson and Dr. Bacchus, Jr.” (Tr.
32.) Although the ALJ summarized in two sentences the content of the state agency doctors’
reports (Tr. 31), this does not allow the Court to perform the “meticulous examination of the
record required by law”–that is, reviewing, among other things, the narrative comments of the
doctors, if any, and the date of the reports. Hill v. Astrue, 526 F. Supp. 2d 1223, 1230 (D. Kan.
2007) (remanding the Commissioner’s decision where the ALJ relied on the state agency
doctor’s opinion and a portion of the doctor’s assessment was missing from the record). As
such, the Court finds that the omission of the state agency doctors’ reports is material and
precludes meaningful judicial review.6 See, e.g., Edwards, 2010 WL 2787847, at *4; DeCoito,
2008 WL 906164, at *8 .
D. The ALJ’s Rationale for Rejecting a Portion of Dr. Bacchus’s Opinion
Is Not Adequately Articulated or Supported by Substantial Evidence
In addition, the ALJ’s rationale for assigning “greater weight” to a portion of Dr.
Bacchus’s opinion, while rejecting another portion of his opinion that contradicted the assigned
RFC, is not adequately articulated and supported by substantial evidence.
To review, Dr. Bacchus examined Reynolds in November 2012 at the request of Social
Security, concluding that “[w]ith cardiac stability, he could perhaps perform at least part-time,
light duties, mainly sit-down in nature in a low-stress work environment.” (Tr. 406.) Ultimately,
the ALJ afforded “greater weight” to Dr. Bacchus’s opinion that Reynolds could work in a “lowstress environment,” but rejected Dr. Bacchus’s view that Reynolds was limited to part-time
work. (Tr. 31-32.)
An ALJ must “minimally articulate his or her justification for rejecting or accepting
specific evidence of a disability.” Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 371 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation
omitted). In an attempt to do so, the ALJ first recited that Dr. Bacchus was not a specialist or a
state agency medical expert. (Tr. 32.) But the ALJ’s logic in this respect is not traceable; at the
same time that he rejected Dr. Bacchus’s opinion limiting Reynolds to part-time work, the ALJ
assigned “greater weight” to Dr. Bacchus’s opinion concerning a low-stress work environment.
(See Tr. 32 (“The undersigned [ALJ] assigns greater weight to the opinions of the State Agency
The Commissioner did not respond to Reynolds’s argument that the state agency doctors’ opinions were
not included in the administrative record. (Pl.’s Br. 13; Docket # 25.)
medical experts, Dr. Mayle, Dr. Genetos, and Dr. Bacchus Jr. (with regard to the low-stress
limitation) than to the opinions of Dr. Anderson and Dr. Bacchus Jr. (with regard to the
limitation for part-time light, sit-down work.”).) Accordingly, the first reason provided by the
ALJ is illogical and inconsistent, and thus, does not build an “accurate and logical bridge” from
the evidence to his conclusions. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008) (citation
Next, the ALJ states that Dr. Bacchus’s limitation to part-time work (as well as Dr.
Anderson’s opinion that Reynolds is unable to work) is not “well-supported by the record when
viewed as a whole, especially considering both the claimant’s activities and the objective
medical evidence of record.” (Tr. 32.) But the ALJ does not explain how Reynolds’s daily
activities, which are fairly limited in nature and frequented with rest breaks (Tr. 614, 616-17,
626-31), are inconsistent with a limitation to part-time work. (Tr. 32.) Elsewhere in the decision,
the ALJ summarized Reynolds’s daily activities as follows: “[He] is able to drive, play games on
a computer, do some cooking, help his wife fold clothes, use at telephone, stay in contact with
his family members, let his dogs out, play cars with his grandsons sometimes, watch television,
go out alone, and read.” (Tr. 28, 32.)
The Court is “hard-pressed to understand how [these minimal daily activities] support[ ] a
conclusion that [Reynolds] was able to work a full-time job, week in and week out, given [his]
limitations.” Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 812 (7th Cir. 2011). “[M]inimal daily activities . . .
do not establish that a person is capable of engaging in substantial physical activity.” Clifford,
227 F.3d at 872; see also Ramey v. Astrue, 319 F. App’x 426, 430 (7th Cir. 2009) (unpublished)
(opining that the claimant’s minimal daily activities, which included two hours of house chores
punctuated with rest, cooking simple meals, and grocery shopping three times per month, were
not inconsistent with her claims of disabling pain); Zurawski, 245 F.3d at 887 (same).
And with respect to the ALJ’s reasoning that Dr. Bacchus’s part-time work limitation is
inconsistent with “the objective medical evidence of record” (Tr. 32), courts have observed:
Fibromyalgia is a mysterious disease; doctors know very little about what causes
it or how to treat it. There are no objective medical tests that can confirm the
existence of fibromyalgia. Rather, the principal symptoms, which include
persistent pain, fatigue, disrupted sleep, stiffness, and numerous tenders spots on
the body, are all subjective.
Allen v. Massanari, No. 01 C 1045, 2002 WL 398510, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 14, 2002) (citing
Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 306 (7th Cir.1996)); see Harbin v. Colvin, No. 11 c 3037, 2014
WL 4976614, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 6, 2014) (“Fibromyalgia is diagnosed primarily based on a
patient’s subjective complaints and the absence of other causes for the complaints.”); Kurth v.
Astrue, 568 F. Supp. 2d 1020, 1032-33 (W.D. Wis. 2008) (stating that “subjective complaints in
[a fibromyalgia] case are more important than in other cases because they are clinical indicators
of the disease of fibromyalgia”). The ALJ’s rejection of Dr. Bacchus’s limitation to part-time
work on the basis that it was inconsistent with the “objective medical evidence of record”
seemingly fails to take into account the unique nature of fibromyalgia-type symptoms. See, e.g.,
Aidinovski v. Apfel, 27 F. Supp. 2d 1097, 1104 (N.D. Ill. 1998) (remanding the ALJ’s decision,
which discounted claimant’s doctors’ reports because they were not based on objective medical
evidence, because he did “not take into account the unique nature of fibromyalgia”).
Moreover, the Commissioner’s post-hoc assertion that the ALJ correctly rejected Dr.
Bacchus’s part-time work limitation because it was based on “ongoing health and cardiac risk
factors” is misplaced. (Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of the Commissioner’s Decision 10.) The
Commissioner’s argument goes likes this: Dr. Bacchus based his limitation to part-time work, at
least in part, on Reynolds’s cardiac instability; and the ALJ’s rejection of this limitation was
proper because Dr. Genetos, Reynolds’s treating cardiologist, had released him to return to work
six months earlier.7 (Id.)
But this is not an accurate characterization of the record. Rather, the ALJ stated:
“Claimant does have ongoing health and cardiac risk factors. With cardiac stability, he could
perhaps perform at least part-time, light duties, mainly sit-down in nature, in a low-stress work
environment.” (Tr. 406 (emphasis added).) Thus, Dr. Bacchus’s opinion that Reynolds could
perform at least part-time work presumed, in fact, that he was stable from a cardiac standpoint.
Accordingly, the Commissioner’s post hoc argument does not bolster the ALJ’s rejection of this
portion of Dr. Bacchus’s opinion.
In sum, because the ALJ failed to adequately articulate his rationale for rejecting the
portion of Dr. Bacchus’s opinion restricting Reynolds to part-time work, and because the
reasoning he did articulate concerning the limitation was logically flawed, the ALJ’s
consideration of Dr. Bacchus’s opinion will be remanded.8
The Commissioner also contends that Reynolds is “simply speculati[ng]” by asserting that his release to
return to work without restrictions in May 2012 by Dr. Genetos was “only . . . a general cardiac clearance to work”
that did not address his other health problems. (Id. at 9.) But Reynolds’s characterization of Dr. Genetos’s opinion
has support in the record. When releasing Reynolds to return to work, Dr. Genetos stated that although Reynolds
had “done well cardiac wise,” he “[u]nfortunately . . has been plagued ever since then by constant left sided chest
pain along with diffuse myalgias, arthralgias and fatigue.” (Tr. 328.) Dr. Genetos then indicated that Dr. Brennan
would probably be seeing Reynolds in the near future for “evaluation of his arthralgias, myalgias and fatigue.” (Tr.
Because a remand is necessary based on the omission of the state agency doctors’ opinions and the ALJ’s
consideration of Dr. Bacchus’s opinion, the Court need not reach Reynolds’s remaining arguments.
For the reasons articulated herein, the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED, and
the case is REMANDED to the Commissioner for further proceedings in accordance with this
Opinion. The Clerk is directed to enter a judgment in favor of Reynolds and against the
Enter for this 15th day of October, 2014.
S/Roger B. Cosbey
Roger B. Cosbey,
United States Magistrate Judge
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