Edmondson v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER: The decision of the Administrative Law Judge is AFFIRMED. Signed by Judge William C Lee on 6/16/17. (cer)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
FORT WAYNE DIVISION
AMY L. EDMONDSON,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
CIVIL NO. 1:16cv142
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the court for judicial review of a final decision of the defendant
Commissioner of Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff's application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) as provided for in the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §416(I). Section
205(g) of the Act provides, inter alia, "[a]s part of his answer, the [Commissioner] shall file a
certified copy of the transcript of the record including the evidence upon which the findings and
decision complained of are based. The court shall have 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 case for a rehearing." It also provides, "[t]he
findings of the [Commissioner] as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
The law provides that an applicant for disability insurance benefits must establish 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); 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(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). It is not enough for a plaintiff to establish that an
impairment exists. It must be shown that the impairment is severe enough to preclude the
plaintiff from engaging in substantial gainful activity. Gotshaw v. Ribicoff, 307 F.2d 840 (7th
Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 945 (1963); Garcia v. Califano, 463 F.Supp. 1098 (N.D.Ill.
1979). It is well established that the burden of proving entitlement to disability insurance
benefits is on the plaintiff. See Jeralds v. Richardson, 445 F.2d 36 (7th Cir. 1971); Kutchman v.
Cohen, 425 F.2d 20 (7th Cir. 1970).
Given the foregoing framework, "[t]he question before [this court] is whether the record
as a whole contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner’s] findings." Garfield v.
Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 1984) citing Whitney v. Schweiker, 695 F.2d 784, 786
(7th Cir. 1982); 42 U.S.C. §405(g). "Substantial evidence is defined as 'more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'" Rhoderick v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984) quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1410, 1427 (1971); see Allen v. Weinberger,
552 F.2d 781, 784 (7th Cir. 1977). "If the record contains such support [it] must [be] affirmed,
42 U.S.C. §405(g), unless there has been an error of law." Garfield, supra at 607; see also
Schnoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).
In the present matter, after consideration of the entire record, the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) made the following findings:
The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through December 31, 2013.
The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 27,
2008, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
The claimant has the following severe impairments: obesity, bi-polar disorder,
post traumatic stress disorder status post childhood abuse, schizoaffective
disorder, left knee issue, and degenerative disc disease (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the
residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR
404.1567(b), except the claimant could only occasionally climb ladders, ropes,
scaffolds, ramps or stairs, and could only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch and crawl. Additionally, the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to
moving machinery and exposure to unprotected heights. Moreover, the claimant
is limited to simple, routine and repetitive work performed in a work environment
free of fast-paced production requirements and only occasional interactions with
coworkers, but could work around coworkers throughout the day without any
tandem tasks. Additionally, work would need to be isolated from the general
public with only occasional interactions with supervisors. Finally the claimant
would need to sit or stand alternatively, but would not be off task more than 10%
of the work period.
The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
The claimant was born on August 2, 1983, and was 24 years old, which is defined
as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The
claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age
(20 CFR 404.1563)
The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20
Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability
because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding
that the claimant is “not disabled,” whether or not the claimant has transferable
job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
Considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569 and 404.1569(a)).
The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act,
from February 27, 2008, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g)).
Based upon these findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability
insurance benefits. The ALJ’s decision became the final agency decision when the Appeals
Council denied review. This appeal followed.
This case has a somewhat lengthy procedural history. In November 2010, Plaintiff
applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability since February 2008 (Tr. 118,
189-95). The agency denied her claim initially and on reconsideration (Tr. 121-24, 129-35). On
May 24, 2012, Plaintiff appeared with a non-attorney representative and testified at a hearing
before an ALJ (Tr. 42-117). On July 20, 2012, the ALJ denied Plaintiff’s application for
disability benefits, finding she was not disabled during any of the period from her alleged onset
date of February 27, 2008, through the date of the ALJ’s decision (Tr. 15-41). On August 30,
2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review (Tr. 1-4). On October 24, 2013,
Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court, alleging that she was wrongfully denied disability
insurance benefits (Tr. 834-845). On November 6, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed another
application for disability insurance benefits alleging disability since February 2008 (Tr. 866,
1038-39). The agency denied her claim initially and on reconsideration (Tr. 969-77, 979-985).
On October 28, 2014, this court remanded the case to the Commissioner for further
consideration of the frequency requirement for the sit/stand limitation and for further
consideration of the limitations in the mental residual functional capacity (RFC) finding (Tr.
867-83). On August 4, 2015, the Appeals Council issued an order remanding Plaintiff’s
application to the ALJ consistent with this Court’s order. (Tr. 884-87). The Appeals Council also
ordered the ALJ to consolidate Plaintiff’s subsequent application dated November 6, 2013 with
the November 2010 application and issue a decision on the consolidated claims (Tr. 884-87).
On October 23, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an
ALJ (Tr. 662-727). A vocational expert (VE) also testified. On January 5, 2016, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff’s application for disability benefits, finding she was not disabled during any of the
period from her alleged onset date of February 27, 2008, through December 31, 2013, the date
she last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (Tr. 634-61). The ALJ’s
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of
the Commissioner’s decision.
Plaintiff filed her opening brief on November 11, 2016. On January 12, 2017, the
defendant filed a memorandum in support of the Commissioner’s decision. Plaintiff has declined
to file a reply. Upon full review of the record in this cause, this court is of the view that the
ALJ’s decision should be affirmed.
A five step test has been established to determine whether a claimant is disabled. See
Singleton v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 710, 711 (7th Cir. 1988); Bowen v. Yuckert, 107 S.Ct. 2287,
2290-91 (1987). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has summarized
that test as follows:
The following steps are addressed in order: (1) Is the claimant
presently unemployed? (2) Is the claimant's impairment "severe"?
(3) Does the impairment meet or exceed one of a list of specific
impairments? (4) Is the claimant unable to perform his or her
former occupation? (5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other
work within the economy? An affirmative answer leads either to
the next step or, on steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than step 3, stops
the inquiry and leads to a determination that the claimant is not
Nelson v. Bowen, 855 F.2d 503, 504 n.2 (7th Cir. 1988); Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162
n.2 (7th Cir. 1985); accord Halvorsen v. Heckler, 743 F.2d 1221 (7th Cir. 1984). From the nature
of the ALJ's decision to deny benefits, it is clear that step five was the determinative inquiry.
Plaintiff recites the following medical history regarding her orthopaedic problems. On
April 15, 2011, Plaintiff’s primary care physician, Lisa N. Booth, M.D., documented left knee
pain and noted that Plaintiff was ambulating with a cane. On April 18, 2011, x-rays revealed
minimal patellofemoral degenerative change. On May 12, 2011, an MRI revealed a small Baker’s
cyst and joint effusion. On May 18, 2011, Dr. Booth referred her to an orthopaedic physician,
Karl T. Wagner, M.D., for further evaluation. Dr. Wagner reviewed the MRI, found peripatellar
tenderness, and diagnosed patellar chondromalacia. In response, Dr. Wagner prescribed pain
medication (Ultram), an anti-inflammatory (Mobic), and physical therapy. Plaintiff pursued
physical therapy for her left knee issues from May 25, 2011 to June 22, 2011. On September 12,
2011, Dr. Booth revised the medication regimen to Flexeril, Vicodin, and Mobic. On November
8, 2011, Dr. Booth renewed the diagnosed of left knee pain and noted that some days Plaintiff
continued to have trouble ambulating. As a result, Dr. Booth maintained the Mobic prescription
and referred her back to Dr. Wagner. In April 2012, her physician diagnosed plantar fascial
fibromatosis which was still an active problem in 2015.
On May 22, 2009, Dr. Booth identified a keloid scar on Plaintiff’s neck. On July 20, 2009,
Dr. Booth noted that Plaintiff experienced neck pain and could not move her right arm. Dr.
Booth then diagnosed cervicalgia, took her off work, and prescribed Naprosyn, Flexeril, and
Darvocet. On August 21, 2009, an MRI of the cervical spine showed mild posterior ligamentous
hypertrophy at C5-C6 and C6-C7. On August 21, 2009, an MRI of the thoracic spine showed
atypical hemangioma at T-1 or T-4, 28 and mild right posterior vertebral spurring at T-1 and T-2.
On August 21, 2009, an MRI of the lumbar spine showed a broad-based central L4-L5 disk
protrusion with mild bilateral facet arthropathy, and an L5-S1 bulge with mild left-sided
foraminal stenosis and mild to moderate bilateral facet arthropathy. On August 28, 2009, Dr.
Booth again diagnosed cervicalgia and back pain.
On January 13, 2011, the consultative examiner identified lumbar range of motion
deficits in forward flexion and extension. On April 15, 2011, Dr. Booth renewed the diagnosis of
cervicalgia and back pain, and prescribed Naprosyn and Flexeril. On August 22, 2011, Dr. Booth
documented that Plaintiff’s low back pain radiated into both thighs. Dr. Booth also elicited a
positive straight leg raising test bilaterally and noted that pain limited Plaintiff’s range of motion.
Consequently, Dr. Booth ordered another lumbar MRI. On August 25, 2011, Plaintiff underwent a
lumbar MRI that revealed L4-L5 broad-based central disk protrusion with mild disk space
narrowing, a posterior tear of the annulus fibrosis, mild ventral impression of the thecal sac, and
mild bilateral degenerative facet arthropathy; L5-S1 broad-based disk bulge with mild left
foraminal stenosis, mild bilateral recess stenosis, and degenerative facet arthropathy. After
evaluating the MRI, Dr. Booth referred Plaintiff to Robert M. Shugart, M.D., an orthopaedic
surgeon. On September 9, 2011, Dr. Shugart examined Plaintiff, recommended conservative care,
and set up an L4-L5 epidural injection. On September 12, 2011, Dr. Booth renewed the Flexeril,
Vicodin, and Mobic prescriptions. On October 5, 2011, David S. Stensland, M.D., an orthopaedic
surgeon, diagnosed a lumbar herniated nucleus pulpolsus and administered an L4-L5 interlaminar
epidural injection. On November 30, 2011, Dr. Stensland again diagnosed a lumbar herniated
nucleus pulpolsus and administered another L4-L5 interlaminar epidural injection. Plaintiff then
pursued physical therapy for her back issues from December 28, 2011 to March 5, 2012. The
condition of her spine and her pain continued to be problematic throughout the period 2012 to
2015. EMG revealed chronic L5 radiculopathy and she required a cane.
The following facts relate to Plaintiff’s morbid obesity. On March 10, 2005, a mental
health therapist advised Plaintiff that Seroquel could cause weight gain. On June 29, 2011, her
weight was 280lbs and her BMI was 41.34. On July 7, 2011, her weight was 281lbs. On August
22, 2011, Dr. Booth communicated to Plaintiff that weight loss would help with back and pain.
On September 9, 2011, her height was 5’7” and her weight was 265lbs. From 2012 through 2015,
physicians noted morbid obesity.
The following facts relate to Plaintiff’s mental health. On June 2, 2004, Northeastern
Center staff recorded bipolar disorder and acute stress disorder and assigned Plaintiff a Global
Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score of 50. From March 10, 2005 to April 27, 2006, Plaintiff
received mental health services from Saint Joseph County (Michigan) Community Mental Health
Services. During this treatment period, Plaintiff’s GAF scores ranged from 40 to 45. Her
psychiatrist variously diagnosed her with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), binge eating
disorder, major depressive disorder, and noted a history of alcohol abuse, history of sexual abuse,
and history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The treatment regimen included
medication management and outpatient therapy. Her psychiatrist variously prescribed Zonegram,
Abilify, Seroquel, Paxil, and Lexapro.
On December 23, 2008, consultative examiner, Vijay G. Kamineni, M.D., noted
generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder. From December 29, 2010 to April 5,
2012, Plaintiff received mental health services from Northeastern Center. During this treatment
period, Plaintiff’s GAF scores ranged from 38 to 52. Her psychiatrist, Sylvia Rutten, M.D.,
variously diagnosed her with PTSD, schizoaffective disorder, and avoidant personality disorder.
The treatment regimen included medication management, individual therapy, dialectical behavior
therapy, group therapy, and individual ADL training in the home. Her psychiatrist prescribed
Prazosin and Saphris.
On January 19, 2011, a consultative psychologist, Dan L. Boen, Ph.D., conducted a
Mental Status Examination. His diagnostic impressions encompassed major depressive disorder
and social phobia and a GAF score of 55.
On January 31, 2011, as a part of the “Psychiatric Review Technique”, a DDB
non-examining consultative psychologist, F. Kladder, Ph. D., diagnosed Plaintiff with major
depressive disorder and social phobia and identified moderate limitations in activities of daily
living, moderate limitations in maintaining social functioning, mild limitations in maintaining
concentration, persistence and pace, and no episodes of decompensation. This same consultative
psychologist also completed the Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment (MRFCA),
which noted the following mental health functional deficits: moderate limitation in the ability to
understand and remember detailed instructions; moderate limitation in the ability to carry out
detailed instructions; moderate limitation in the ability to maintain attention and concentration for
extended periods; moderate limitation in the ability to complete a normal workday and workweek
without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms; moderate limitation in the ability to
perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; and
moderate limitation in the ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism
On April 5, 2012, the treating psychiatrist, Dr. Rutten, completed a mental residual
functional capacity assessment and arrived at the following limitations: moderate limitation in the
ability to remember locations and work-like procedures; moderate limitation in the ability to
understand and remember detailed instructions; moderate limitation in the ability to carry out
detailed instructions; moderate limitation in the ability to sustain an ordinary routine without
special supervision; moderate limitation in the ability to work in coordination with or proximity
to others without being distracted by them; moderate limitation in the ability to make simple work
related decisions; moderate limitation in the ability to complete a normal workday and workweek
without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms; moderate limitation in the ability to
perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; moderate
limitation in the ability to interact appropriately with the general public; moderate limitation in
the ability to ask simple questions or request assistance; moderate limitation in the ability to
accept instruction and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; moderate limitation
in the ability to get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting
behavioral extremes; moderate limitation in the ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior
and to adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness; moderate limitation in the ability to
respond to changes in work setting; moderate limitation in the ability to be aware of normal
hazards and take appropriate precautions; marked limitation in the ability to travel in unfamiliar
places or use public transportation; and moderate limitation in the ability to set realistic goals or
make plans independent of others.
In 2013, Plaintiff’s psychiatrist diagnosed PTSD, avoidant personality disorder,
schizoaffective disorder, and pain disorder associated with psychological factors and general
In support of reversal or remand Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ denied her due process
by using a previously vacated ALJ decision as evidence. In particular, Plaintiff notes that the
ALJ stated that “The judge noted at the first hearing that the claimant was able to relate and
respond to all questions asked of her without any apparent issue” (Tr. 643). Pl. Br. 13. Plaintiff
contends the ALJ did not note this at the first hearing, but noted it in the decision, and the ALJ
erred in using the previous ALJ’s finding as evidence because the decision was vacated.
The Defendant admits that the ALJ discussed the finding from the vacated decision in
evaluation of Plaintiff’s difficulties in social functioning at step three of the sequential evaluation
process (Tr.643). The Defendant contends that the error is harmless because the ALJ adequately
considered other evidence in evaluating Plaintiff’s social functioning, including testimony during
the second hearing.
Errors, if harmless, do not require or permit reversal. Sanchez ex rel. Sanchez v. Barnhart,
467 F.3d 1081, 1082–83 (7th Cir. 2006). An error is harmless if the court “can predict with great
confidence that the result on remand would be the same.” Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707
(7th Cir. 2013). In the present case, it is clear that the result would have been the same because
the ALJ considered other evidence in the evaluation of Plaintiff’s social functioning. For
example, the ALJ considered that function reports noted that Plaintiff was always a loner, that
she tended to isolate herself, and that she did not socialize often (Tr. 273-74, 643). She asserted
some difficulty in getting along with others in the past, but she reported that she got along well
with her husband, mother, sister, and stepfather (Tr. 260, 264, 429, 643). She left her house
twice per week at least and had daily visits with her husband (Tr. 260, 262-63, 643). She Skyped
with her mother on the computer nearly every day, or they talked on the phone (Tr. 263, 643,
1066). She went to church once per week and was involved in worship studies (Tr. 263, 273,
643, 1066). She continued to work as a cashier at Kroger for two years after the alleged onset date
(Tr. 427, 643, 671). At the second hearing, Plaintiff testified that she was uncomfortable in
large groups of people, but that small groups did not bother her as much and that she was
bothered by loud noises (Tr. 643, 670). She was home schooled and did not feel that she did
well with other people (Tr. 643, 669). Clearly, the ALJ fully evaluated Plaintiff’s social
functioning. Moreover, this analysis was crystalized in the ALJ’s RFC finding which recognized
Plaintiff’s limitations in social functioning and public interactions.
Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred in not assigning controlling weight to her treating
psychiatrist’s opinion. To be entitled to controlling weight, a treating physician’s opinion must be
“well-supported” by objective medical evidence and “not inconsistent” with other record
evidence. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2); SSR 96-2p; Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 415 (7th Cir.
In the present case, the ALJ considered that Dr. Sylvia Rutten completed a medical source
statement on April 5, 2012, wherein she opined that Plaintiff had only moderate restrictions in all
areas of social functioning (Tr. 609, 643). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had moderate
difficulties in social functioning and, as noted above, included some social limitations in
Plaintiff’s RFC (Tr. 643, 646). The ALJ considered that Dr. Rutten opined that Plaintiff had a
moderate difficulty in the ability to carry out detailed instructions; the ability to sustain an
ordinary routine without special supervision; the ability to work in coordination with or proximity
to others without being distracted by them; the ability to make simple work-related decisions; and
the ability to complete a normal workday and work week without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable
number and length of rest periods (Tr. 608-09, 644).
The ALJ also noted that Dr. Rutten opined that Plaintiff did not have any
significant problem with carrying out very short and simple instructions; maintaining attention
and concentration for extended periods; and the ability to perform activities within a schedule,
maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances (Tr. 608-09, 644-45).
The ALJ found that Dr. Rutten’s opinion supports a finding of no more than moderate difficulty
in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace, and that these limitations were reflected in the
RFC (Tr. 645). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had some moderate problems with sustaining
concentration, persistence, or pace that have been addressed by limiting her to simple unskilled
work and precluding more complex and detailed work activity (Tr. 649). The ALJ further noted
that this is consistent with Dr. Rutten’s opinion that Plaintiff’s ability to perform simple tasks
and to sustain attention was not limited, and other areas in particular social functioning had no
more than moderate limitations (Tr. 608-10, 649). The ALJ considered that the only area with a
marked limitation according to Dr. Rutten was an inability to travel to unfamiliar places, but that
is such a minimal limitation and it is not a part of most jobs. (Tr. 610, 649).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ mentioned Dr. Rutten’s opinion, but did not find that it was
entitled to controlling weight, and instead cherry picked limitations. This contention lacks merit
because the ALJ adequately evaluated the opinion from Dr. Rutten. As previously discussed, the
ALJ noted that the limitations of simple unskilled work and the limitations on social functioning
were consistent with Dr. Rutten’s opinion. In addition, also as previously discussed, the ALJ
noted that the only area with a marked limitation according to Dr. Rutten was an inability to travel
to unfamiliar places, but that it was such a minimal limitation and was not a part of most jobs.
The ALJ did not cherry pick limitations, but rather evaluated the limitations assessed by Dr.
Rutten. Therefore, contrary to Plaintiff’s contention, the ALJ adequately evaluated Dr. Rutten’s
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s RFC finding did not include Dr. Rutten’s opinion that
Plaintiff had a marked limitation in the ability to travel in unfamiliar places or use public
transportation. However, as previously discussed, the ALJ adequately explained why
this limitation was not included in the finding for the RFC, as the inability to travel is not a
problem with most jobs, especially simple unskilled work..
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s RFC finding did not include Dr. Rutten’s opinion that
Plaintiff had moderate limitations in the ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior and to
adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness, and to accept instruction and to respond
appropriately to criticism from supervisors. However, this argument fails because the ALJ
adequately considered these limitations. These limitations opined by Dr. Rutten are related to
social functioning (Tr. 609). The ALJ discussed Dr. Rutten’s opinion that Plaintiff has moderate
restrictions in all areas of social functioning (Tr. 643). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had a
moderate difficulty in social functioning, and found that she could relate on a superficial basis on
an ongoing basis with coworkers and supervisors (Tr. 643, 646). The ALJ noted that the
limitations in the RFC are intended to reduce Plaintiff’s anxiety as much as possible by limiting
her social contacts (Tr. 649). Therefore, the ALJ accounted for the moderate restrictions in social
functioning in the RFC finding. Furthermore, Plaintiff has not identified specific functional
limitations that should have been included in the RFC based on the opinion from Dr. Rutten.
Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ’s RFC finding did not include Dr. Rutten’s opinion
that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in the ability to sustain an ordinary routine without special
supervision; complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms; and perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable
number and length of rest periods. Again, Plaintiff’s argument fails because the ALJ adequately
considered these limitations. These limitations opined by Dr. Rutten are related to concentration,
persistence, or pace (Tr. 608-09). The ALJ discussed the opinion from Dr. Rutten and noted that
the opinion supports a finding of no more than moderate difficulty in maintaining concentration,
persistence or pace (Tr. 645). The ALJ found that Plaintiff could understand, remember, and carry
out unskilled tasks, she could attend to tasks for a sufficient period of time to complete those
tasks, and she could otherwise manage the stresses involved with unskilled work (Tr. 646). The
ALJ noted that the limitations included in the finding for the RFC were intended to reduce
Plaintiff’s anxiety by limiting the complexity of the work itself (Tr. 649). Therefore, the ALJ
accounted for the moderate restrictions in concentration, persistence, or pace in the RFC finding.
Furthermore, Plaintiff has not identified specific functional limitations that should have been
included in the RFC based on the opinion from Dr. Rutten.
Plaintiff argues that Dr. Rutten’s opinion that she is moderately limited in the ability to
accept instruction and to respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors and that she is
moderately limited in the ability to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision
necessitate a disability finding. Plaintiff further argues that an employee cannot both be left alone
and specially supervised, but this is what Plaintiff requires. However, the record shows that Dr.
Rutten only indicated that Plaintiff has moderate difficulty in these areas, and did not preclude
Plaintiff entirely (Tr. 608-09). Furthermore, the ALJ accounted for Plaintiff’s difficulties with
supervision by finding that she could relate on a superficial basis on an ongoing basis with
supervisors (Tr. 646). This limitation adequately accounts for Plaintiff’s difficulties in interacting
Next, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ did not properly evaluate her obesity. Social Security
Ruling (SSR) 02-1p, 2002 WL 34686281, provides guidance on how to evaluate obesity in
disability claims at each step of the sequential evaluation process. SSR 02-1p advises the ALJ to
evaluate various factors in assessing the RFC including possible exertional functions that may be
affected by obesity, as well as the possible combined effects of obesity with other impairments.
Id. at *6.
In the present case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s obesity was a severe impairment at step
two, and at step three, evaluated the potential impact her obesity may have on other body systems,
including the musculoskeletal system (Tr. 640-41). The ALJ considered that Plaintiff was obese
with a body mass index of about forty most of the time since the alleged onset date (Tr. 591, 641).
She was five feet, seven inches tall and weighed at least 265 pounds since the alleged onset date
(Tr. 526, 641). In evaluating the effects of Plaintiff’s obesity on her RFC, the ALJ cited to
Plaintiff’s testimony, treatment notes and consultative examinations (Tr. 647-48). The ALJ
conducted a thorough review of the evidence to support the RFC finding for light work with
sitting, standing, and/or walking four hours each in an eight-hour workday, occasional climbing
ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, no climbing ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds, and no concentrated exposure to unprotected heights and dangerous moving
machinery (Tr. 646).
Specifically, the ALJ considered Plaintiff’s testimony that she still took care of her house,
did laundry, tried to walk thirty minutes per day for exercise or ride an exercise bike, and went
up and down stairs a few times every day (Tr. 647, 674-75, 681-82). The ALJ also considered
that Plaintiff’s weight ranged from 259 pounds to 280 pounds (Tr. 334, 393, 403, 423, 526, 591,
647). The ALJ considered that the combined effects of Plaintiff’s impairments, including
obesity, limited her to less than the full range of light exertion, but she could still lift and carry
up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and make occasional postural
movements (Tr. 647). The ALJ considered that the consultative examination from Dr. Gautham
Gadiraju showed some decrease in range of motion of the lumbar back and obesity, but
otherwise showed normal motor strength, sensation, reflexes, and a normal gait (Tr. 433, 647).
There was full range of motion of the cervical spine, her grip strength was normal, she was able
to pick up coins and buttons, and there was no numbness or tingling (Tr. 423, 647).
The ALJ found that Plaintiff could sit, stand and/or walk four hours each per workday in
light of an EMG of the lower extremities that showed, chronic right L5 radiculopathy, the
evidence of plantar fascial disease, and increasing obesity (Tr. 648, 1135-36, 1138-39, 1150-51,
1213). The ALJ considered the opinion from Dr. Robert Shugart that Plaintiff could return to her
regular work (Tr. 345, 648). The ALJ gave this opinion partial weight and noted that Plaintiff
gained weight and developed knee pain and plantar fasciitis after the opinion was given (Tr.648).
The ALJ noted that the additional conditions further reduced the length of time Plaintiff
could reasonably be expected to stand and/or walk to a total of four hours each per day (Tr. 648).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s obesity analysis is inadequate and cannot be meaningfully
reviewed. However, as previously discussed, the ALJ adequately evaluated Plaintiff’s obesity in
accordance with SSR 02-1p, and included limitations in the RFC that were supported by the
evidence. Accordingly, this court finds that the ALJ adequately accounted for Plaintiff’s obesity
in the RFC finding, citing to substantial evidence in the record to support the assessed limitations.
Next, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her RFC. Plaintiff argues
that the ALJ’s sit/stand/walk limitation is defective because the limitation implies that sitting,
standing, and walking could occur simultaneously or in random sequence. Plaintiff also argues
that the ALJ’s sit/stand option does not enumerate the frequency of position changes. Contrary to
Plaintiff’s assertions, the ALJ’s finding for Plaintiff’s RFC does not include a specific sit/stand
option (Tr. 646). The RFC is the maximum that a Plaintiff can still do despite her limitations. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3), Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 675-76 (7th Cir 2008). The ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except
that she could sit, stand and/or walk four hours each in an eight-hour workday (Tr. 646). The ALJ
did not find a sit/stand option, but found that Plaintiff was capable of standing for four hours,
sitting for four hours, and walking for four hours total in an eight-hour workday (Tr. 646). The
ALJ simply identified the maximum amount of time Plaintiff was capable of performing each
activity in an eight-hour workday. The ALJ did need to enumerate position changes because the
RFC indicated that Plaintiff was capable of performing a job where some sitting was allowed.
Plaintiff’s argument that the limitation implies that sitting, standing, and walking could occur
simultaneously or in random sequence is similarly without merit. The ALJ identified the
maximum amount of each activity that Plaintiff was capable of performing, and it would be
physically impossible to stand and walk at the same time. There is no indication that the ALJ
intended to find Plaintiff capable of sitting, standing, and walking simultaneously.
Additionally, the VE fully understood the parameters of the RFC the ALJ contemplated.
In response to a hypothetical question posed by the ALJ that was identical to the ALJ’s finding
for the RFC, the VE testified that there would still be thousands of unskilled light jobs available
that a person could perform (Tr. 646, 716-19). The VE testified that light jobs are traditionally
performed primarily standing or walking throughout the workday (Tr. 718). The VE further
testified that the hypothetical suggests that the person had to sit for some duration of the
workday, and the three jobs could accommodate that (Tr. 718-19). See Jens v. Barnhart, 347
F.3d 209, 213 (7th Cir. 2003) (the hypothetical question need only contain a description of
limitations supported by the medical record); Ehrhart v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 969
F.2d 534, 540-41 (7th Cir. 1992) (vocational expert testimony constitutes substantial evidence
for finding as to what jobs a claimant can perform with her particular limitations). Thus, this
court holds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s RFC finding.
Accordingly, for all the above reasons, the ALJ’s decision will be affirmed.
On the basis of the foregoing, the decision of the ALJ is hereby AFFIRMED.
Entered: June 16, 2017.
s/ William C. Lee
William C. Lee, Judge
United States District Court
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