Rodgis v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER re 1 Pro Se Complaint: the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Andrew P Rodovich on 12/17/13. (mc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
ANGELA RENEE RODGIS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
of Social Security,
) Civil No. 2:12-cv-342-APR
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the court on the petition for judicial review filed by the pro se
plaintiff, Angela Renee Rodgis, on August 27, 2012. For the following reasons, the decision of
the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
The plaintiff, Angela Renee Rodgis, filed an application for Social Security Income
Benefits on April 16, 2009, alleging that she became disabled on November 1, 2008. (Tr. 229231) She subsequently amended her onset date to October 24, 2009. (Tr. 271) Her application
initially was denied and was denied upon reconsideration. (Tr. 102-107) Rodgis requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), and a hearing was held on January 28, 2011
before ALJ Roxanne J. Kelsey. Rodgis appeared with her lawyer and testified. (Tr. 55-88)
Vocational Expert Melissa Benjamin also testified at the hearing. (Tr. 55-88) On April 13, 2011,
the ALJ rendered a decision denying benefits. (Tr. 28-34) On August 21, 2012, the Appeals
Council denied review of the ALJ’s decision, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. (Tr. 7-10) Rodgis filed this action for judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner on August 27, 2012.
At step one of the five step sequential analysis for determining whether an individual is
disabled, the ALJ found that Rodgis had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October
24, 2009, her alleged onset date. (Tr. 30) At step two, the ALJ determined that Rodgis had the
following severe impairments: loss of vision in the right eye and right ear deafness. (Tr. 30) The
ALJ next found that Rodgis’ impairments did not meet or equal Listings 2.04 or 2.10. (Tr. 30)
The ALJ determined that Rodgis had the residual functional capacity to perform a full
range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: “the
claimant has monocular vision with no vision in the right eye and limited peripheral viewing on
the right side. She also has right ear deafness but remains able to hear and understand oral
instructions and communicate information.” (Tr. 31) In reaching this decision, the ALJ first
explained that Rodgis testified that she had loss of vision in her right eye because of a stroke.
(Tr. 31) Rodgis testified that she had glaucoma in her left eye, which caused blurry vision that
began in 2010. (Tr. 31) Rodgis reported getting headaches four times a week that lasted for five
hours at a time. (Tr. 31) Rodgis’ daughter lived with her and took her to her doctor
appointments because Rodgis did not drive or use public transportation. (Tr. 31) Rodgis stopped
working because her vision became worse and she missed many days of work. (Tr. 31) At the
hearing, Rodgis testified that she had pain in her eyes at a level of 7 out of 10. (Tr. 31) Rodgis
testified that she was scheduled to have her right eye removed and replaced with a prosthesis, but
the treatment records did not reflect this. (Tr. 31)
The ALJ next summarized Rodgis’ daily activities. (Tr. 31) Everyday her daughter
would put eye drops in her left and right eye. (Tr. 31) She took her pain medication while her
daughter ran bath water for her. (Tr. 31) After eating breakfast, Rodgis would lie down in a dark
room. (Tr. 31) She wore dark glasses to prevent glare from light and it was painful for her to
watch television. (Tr. 31) Rodgis attended church, cleaned her bedroom, but did not cook, do
laundry, or read her mail. (Tr. 31) She rarely went shopping and when she did, it was a short trip
accompanied by someone. (Tr. 31) Rodgis could lift 5 or 6 pounds, stand for an hour, walk less
than a mile due to lower back pain. (Tr. 32)
After summarizing the factors she must consider when determining a claimant’s RFC, the
ALJ explained that Rodgis had not been compliant in taking her prescribed medications, which
suggested that she might not be as limited as she stated. (Tr. 32) Rodgis did not mention her left
eye problems, report photosensitivity or dust problems, “along with so much else” to her doctor.
(Tr. 32) For these reasons, the ALJ determined that Rodgis’ testimony was not credible. (Tr. 32)
The ALJ further explained that, in July 2009, Dr. Thomas Bennett described Rodgis’
vision as hand motions in the right eye and 20/20 in the left eye. (Tr. 32) Rodgis used the eye
drop medication Xalatan and had been prescribed Atropine, Cosopt, and Alphagan P for her right
eye. (Tr. 32) An ultrasound of her right eye showed that the retina was attached with the
presence of a vitreous hemorrhage. (Tr. 32) Conservative observation was recommended. (Tr.
32) Dr. Bennett noted that Rodgis was legally blind in her right eye as of July 10, 2009. (Tr. 32)
Rodgis was non-compliant with her follow up visits. (Tr. 33) As of September 2009, Dr.
Bennett indicated that Rodgis could perform any activities that took her vision into account. (Tr.
In July 2009, Dr. Neil Watkins stated that Rodgis had been non-compliant with eye
medications and was evaluated for blurred vision and spots in her left eye. (Tr. 33) She was
diagnosed with macular scars of the left eye and a nuclear sclerosis cataract. (Tr. 33) The notes
reflected that Rodgis still was working as a laundry attendant as of September 2010. (Tr. 33)
Subsequent notes from the Retina Associates indicated that Rodgis had right eye
blindness and 20/20 vision in her left eye. (Tr. 33) On July 7, 2010, Rodgis had surgery for
retinal detachment of her right eye. (Tr. 33)
Rodgis submitted treatment records after the hearing that revealed that she was deaf in
the right ear. (Tr. 33) She did not assert that she had any difficulties hearing and understanding
oral instruction or communicating information and was able to work as a laundry attendant
despite this condition. (Tr. 33)
The ALJ concluded that based on the record as a whole, Rodgis’ subjective allegations as
to the disabling nature of her impairments were not supported to the extent they were
inconsistent with the above stated RFC. (Tr. 33) The ALJ explained that although Rodgis’
impairments were severe, they did not preclude her from completing basic work related
activities. (Tr. 33) The ALJ stated that the RFC was supported by examination and evaluation
reports by treating doctors, consulting doctors, and Rodgis’ testimony and daily activities. (Tr.
33) Additionally, the ALJ did not find Rodgis’ testimony fully credible. (Tr. 33) The ALJ
reiterated that she considered the opinion evidence, the objective medical evidence, Rodgis’
activities, response to treatment, use of medications, and non-compliance, and other
inconsistencies. (Tr. 33)
At step four, the ALJ concluded that Rodgis could perform her past relevant work as a
laundry worker. (Tr. 33) The ALJ also identified other jobs that Rodgis could perform,
including laundry sorter (3,000 jobs regionally), hostess (4,000 jobs regionally), and information
clerk (2,500 jobs regionally). (Tr. 34) The ALJ noted that she relied on the VE’s testimony to
reach these conclusions. (Tr. 34)
The standard for judicial review of an ALJ’s finding that a claimant is not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act is limited to a determination of whether those findings are
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. sec. 405(g) ("The findings of the Commissioner of
Social Security, as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.");
Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005); Lopez ex rel Lopez v. Barnhart, 336
F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Substantial evidence has been defined as "such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept to support such a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L. Ed.2d 852, (1972)(quoting Consolidated Edison
Company v. NRLB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S. Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed.2d 140 (1938)); See also
Jens v. Barnhart, 347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir. 2003); Sims v. Barnhart, 309 F.3d 424, 428 (7th
Cir. 2002). An ALJ’s decision must be affirmed if the findings are supported by substantial
evidence and if there have been no errors of law. Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir.
2013); Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 368-369 (7th Cir. 2004); Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589,
593 (7th Cir. 2002). However, "the decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary support or an
adequate discussion of the issues." Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539.
Supplemental insurance benefits are available only to those individuals who can establish
"disability" under the terms of the Social Security Act. The claimant must show that she is
unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable
physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or
can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(1)(A). The Social Security regulations enumerate the five-step sequential evaluation to
be followed when determining whether a claimant has met the burden of establishing disability.
20 C.F.R. §416.920. The ALJ first considers whether the claimant is presently employed or
"engaged in substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If she is, the claimant is not
disabled and the evaluation process is over. If she is not, the ALJ next addresses whether the
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments which "significantly limits . . .
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). Third, the ALJ
determines whether that severe impairment meets any of the impairments listed in the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 401, pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If it does, then the impairment is
acknowledged by the Commissioner to be conclusively disabling. However, if the impairment
does not so limit the claimant's remaining capabilities, the ALJ reviews the claimant's "residual
functional capacity" and the physical and mental demands of her past work. If, at this fourth
step, the claimant can perform her past relevant work, she will be found not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§416.920(e). However, if the claimant shows that her impairment is so severe that she is unable
to engage in her past relevant work, then the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to
establish that the claimant, in light of her age, education, job experience, and functional capacity
to work, is capable of performing other work and that such work exists in the national economy.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f).
Rodgis complains that the ALJ erred and that she should be declared disabled because
she has no vision in her right eye and very poor vision in her left eye, which made reading
anything impossible and caused her to misjudge things and fall. Rodgis further complained that
she had bad peripheral vision. She also complained that she had peripheral artery disease in her
legs and struggled to walk. She attempted to walk to stay healthy, but that contributed to her
back problems. She also reported high blood pressure. Rodgis urges that the combination of
these impairments rendered her disabled. The court interprets Rodgis’ argument as a challenge to
the ALJ’s step four and step five determinations.
SSR 96-8p explains how an ALJ should assess a claimant’s RFC at steps four and five of
the sequential evaluation. In a section entitled, “Narrative Discussion Requirements,” SSR 968p specifically spells out what is needed in the ALJ’s RFC analysis. This section of the Ruling
The RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion describing how the
evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g.,
laboratory findings) and nonmedical evidence (e.g., daily activities,
observations). In assessing RFC, the adjudicator must discuss the
individual’s ability to perform sustained work activities in an ordinary work
setting on a regular and continuing basis (i.e., 8 hours a day, for 5 days a
week, or an equivalent work schedule), and describe the maximum amount
of each work-related activity the individual can perform based on the
evidence available in the case record. The adjudicator must also explain how
any material inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence in the case record
were considered and resolved.
SSR 96-8p (footnote omitted). Thus, as explained in this section of the Ruling, there is a
difference between what the ALJ must contemplate and what she must articulate in her written
decision. See Morphew v. Apfel, 2000 WL 682661 at *3 (“There is a distinction here [in SSR
96-8p] between what the ALJ must consider and what the ALJ must articulate in the written
opinion.”); Lawson v. Apfel, 2000 WL 683256, *2-4 (S.D.Ind. May 25, 2000) (ALJ who
restricted the claimant to medium work satisfied the requirements of SSR 96-8p)(“[SSR 96-8p]
does not require an ALJ to discuss all of a claimant’s abilities on a function-by-function basis.
Rather, an ALJ must explain how the evidence supports his or her conclusions about the
claimant's limitations and must discuss the claimant's ability to perform sustained work
Although Rodgis now complains that she has poor vision in her left eye, the medical
evidence does not support her complaint. In July 2009, she had 20/20 vision in her left eye.
Although Dr. Watkins noted that Rodgis had blurred vision and spots in the left eye, on
November 6, 2009, Rodgis’ vision again was recorded as 20/20. Rodgis’ treating physician
cleared her for work, and her eye doctor stated that she could perform activities that accounted
for her vision. Rodgis did not identify any evidence that supported her argument that her left
vision was impaired to the extent it would prevent her from working. Rather, the record reflects
that the ALJ considered Rodgis’ vision in both her left and right eye and found that with her
residual vision in her left eye there were jobs she could perform. In doing so, the ALJ relied on
substantial evidence, and Rodgis has failed to show that this reliance was in error.
Rodgis further contends that she had peripheral artery disease that impaired her ability to
walk. However, the record is devoid of any medical notes to support her complaints of
peripheral artery disease. Moreover, she did not allege leg problems at her hearing and has not
identified any evidence to support her claim. Absent some medical evidence to support her
claim, there is no ground on which to support Rodgis’ request to remand her claim. See 20 CFR
At the next step, the ALJ determined that Rodgis had the residual functional capacity to
perform her past relevant work, and she also identified other jobs that Rodgis could perform with
her RFC. The ALJ made this determination by relying on the testimony of the VE. Provided
there is no apparent conflict between the VE's testimony and the DOT, the ALJ may rely on the
VE's confirmation that the testimony is consistent with the DOT. Weatherbee, 649 F.3d at 570.
The ALJ satisfies her duty when she questions whether the VE's answer is consistent with the
DOT and receives an affirmative answer, even if the VE's response partially is based on his
experience, provided there are no apparent inconsistencies that the ALJ must further resolve.
Rodgis has not identified any apparent conflict between the VE’s testimony and the DOT
that would warrant remand for further consideration. Rather, the ALJ was permitted to rely on
the VE’s testimony. In doing so, the VE was able to identify a substantial number of jobs in the
national economy that Rodgis could perform with her RFC. Because the court already has
concluded that the ALJ’s RFC determination was not flawed, and the VE was able to identify
jobs Rodgis could perform in light of her limitations that presented no apparent conflict with the
DOT. The ALJ was permitted to rely on this testimony, and her decision was supported by
substantial evidence. Rodgis has not identified any errors that would warrant remand.
Based on the foregoing reasons, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.
ENTERED this 17th day of December, 2013
/s/ Andrew P. Rodovich
United States Magistrate Judge
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