Boldt v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER: AFFIRMING the Commissioner's decision pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g). The Clerk is instructed to term the case and enter judgment in favor of the Commissioner. Signed by Magistrate Judge Christopher A Nuechterlein on 8/12/2015. (lhc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
DAVID A. BOLDT,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
CAUSE NO. 3:14-cv-00680-CAN
OPINION AND ORDER
On April 2, 2014, Plaintiff David A. Boldt (“Boldt”) filed a complaint in this Court
seeking reversal of the Social Security Commissioner’s final decision to deny his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Alternatively, Boldt seeks a remand for further
consideration of his application. On September 8, 2014, Boldt filed his Opening Brief of
Plaintiff in Social Security Appeal. On December 23, 2014, Defendant, Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”), filed a response asking the Court to affirm the decision denying
benefits. On March 13, 2015, Boldt filed a Reply Brief. This Court may enter a ruling in this
matter based on the parties consent, 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
On November 30, 2010, Boldt filed a Title II application for DIB with the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) alleging disability beginning October 29, 2010. The SSA denied
Boldt’s application initially on August 8, 2011, and then again on November 21, 2011, after
reconsideration was granted. On January 10, 2012, Boldt filed a timely request for an
administrative hearing. On November 1, 2012, a video hearing was held before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) where Boldt and an impartial expert appeared and testified.
On January 25, 2013, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Boldt was not disabled at Step
Four of the evaluation process and denying his applications for benefits.1 On January 28, 2014,
the Appeals Council denied Boldt’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Boldt then sought judicial review of the Commissioner’s final
decision pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by filing his complaint in this Court on
April 2, 2014.
Boldt was born on October 12, 1960, making him 50-years old on the alleged disability
onset date of October 29, 2010. Boldt has a high school education. Prior to the alleged onset
date, Boldt’s past relevant work consisted of sales at a specialty bedding company. As part of
the sales job, Boldt would participate in the loading and unloading of trucks.
At his hearing before the ALJ, Boldt testified that he suffers from blindness in his right
eye and a sensitivity to light in his left eye that causes headaches. Boldt testified that the
headaches are so severe that sometimes he has to go to a dark room and lay down for a while,
and other times he has to lay there all day. Boldt also testified that despite his condition, he takes
no prescription medicine.
Boldt provided the ALJ with medical evidence that documented his visits to various
doctors from October 29, 2010, up to the date of the administrative hearing on November 1,
2012. Following the hearing, Boldt continued to seek medical treatment and continued to
provide medical evidence to the ALJ through January 19, 2013, six days before the ALJ issued
his decision. The medical record and opinions show that Boldt has been treated for blindness in
Social Security regulations provide a five-part test to determine whether the claimant is disabled and entitled to
Title II disability insurance benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
the right eye that developed after a severe trauma in 2010, resulting deficiencies in depth
perception, photophobia, and headaches. Boldt also wears glasses to assist the visual acuity in
his left eye and has self-treated with a varying regimen of over-the-counter pain medications
throughout the relevant period.
In August 2011, Boldt was seen for a consultative examination by Advanced
Ophthalmology Associates (“AOA”). The AOA doctor found that Boldt had normal visual
fields, his condition was non-severe, and he could see to work with the corrected vision in his
left eye. Later, in August 2011 and November 2011, two other non-examining state agency
doctors affirmed that Boldt’s condition was non-severe. After the hearing, the ALJ sent medical
interrogatories to ophthalmologist Dr. Jack Greenberg seeking his expert opinion on Boldt’s
limitations based on review of the written evidence in Boldt’s record as of November 14, 2012,
and an audio recording of Boldt’s testimony at the hearing. Dr. Greenberg found that Boldt
suffered from photophobia, headaches related to photophobia, and minor cataract changes in the
left eye. Dr. Greenberg also opined that photophobia would not normally cause day-long
headaches as Boldt was alleging, and recommended consultation with a neurologist.
On January 7, 2013, Boldt saw neurologist Paula Toth-Russell. Dr. Toth-Russell noted
that a December 2012 MRI showed “a venous angioma in the left temporal lobe” that may be the
source of Boldt’s headaches. Doc. No. 9 at 187. Dr. Toth-Russell began treating Boldt’s
headaches with Magnesium.
On January 19, 2013, more than two months following the hearing, Boldt initiated a visit
with optometrist2 Dr. Matthew Bartlett. Dr. Bartlett found blindness in the right eye with a
In his opening brief, Boldt refers to Dr. Bartlett as an ophthalmologist. Doc. No. 17 at 5. However, records of
Boldt’s visit to Dr. Bartlett identify him as “Matthew Bartlett, O.D.” Doc. No. 9 at 190–91. Therefore, the Court
refers to Dr. Bartlett as an optometrist based on the “doctor of optometry” notation on his professional documents.
limited visual field in Boldt’s left eye, but also offered the opinion that a patient with Boldt’s
issues would be a liability in most work environments.
On January 25, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision reflecting the following findings
based on the five-step disability evaluation prescribed by the SSA’s regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4); see also Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004). As an initial
matter, the ALJ found Boldt was insured through June 30, 2012, and must establish disability on
or before that date in order to be entitled to DIB benefits. At Step One, the ALJ found that Boldt
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from October 29, 2010, the alleged onset date
until the date last insured of June 30, 2012. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Boldt had the
following severe impairments: blindness in the right eye; contraction of visual field in the left
eye; and headaches. At Step Three, the ALJ found that Boldt did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any Listing. The ALJ then
determined that Boldt retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range
of work at all exertional levels except that he must avoid all exposure to dangerous moving
machinery, to unprotected heights, and commercial driving. At Step Four, the ALJ found that
Boldt was capable of performing past relevant work as a sales attendant because it did not
require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Boldt’s RFC. Based on these
findings, the ALJ determined that Boldt had not been disabled at any time from October 29,
2010, the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2012, the date last insured.
Standard of Review
The Social Security Act authorizes judicial review of the final decision of the agency and
indicates that the Commissioner’s factual findings must be accepted as conclusive if supported
by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, a court reviewing the findings of an ALJ will
reverse only if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence or if the ALJ has applied an
erroneous legal standard. See Briscoe v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but may be less than the weight of the
evidence. Sheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 699 (7th Cir. 2004). Thus, substantial evidence is
simply “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Kepple v. Massanari, 468 F.3d
513, 516 (7th Cir. 2001).
A reviewing court is not to substitute its own opinion for that of the ALJ or to re-weigh
the evidence, but the ALJ must build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.
Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005). Minimally, an ALJ must articulate his
analysis of the evidence in order to allow the reviewing court to trace the path of his reasoning
and to be assured that the ALJ considered the important evidence. See Scott v. Barnhart, 297
F.3d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 2002). The ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence in
the record, but must present a “logical bridge” from the evidence to his conclusions. O’ConnorSpinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2010).
Issues for Review
Boldt presents a quartet of issues for review. Boldt contends that the ALJ (1) made an
erroneous Step Four determination because Boldt could not return to his past relevant work, (2)
failed to logically connected Boldt’s headaches to the RFC, (3) improperly weighed the opinion
evidence of neurologist Dr. Toth-Russell and ophthalmologist Dr. Bartlett, and (4) made an
improper credibility determination of Boldt’s subjective symptoms. Before addressing Boldt’s
challenge to the ALJ’s Step Four determination about past relevant work, the Court will address
Boldt’s RFC-related arguments.
An individual’s RFC demonstrates her ability to do physical and mental work activities
on a sustained basis despite functional limitations caused by any medically determinable
impairment(s) and their symptoms, including pain. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545; SSR 96-8p 1996. In
making a proper RFC determination, the ALJ must consider all of the relevant evidence in the
case record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. The record may include medical signs, diagnostic findings,
the claimant’s statements about the severity and limitations of symptoms, statements and other
information provided by treating or examining physicians and psychologists, third party witness
reports, and any other relevant evidence. SSR 96-7p. “Careful consideration must be given to
any available information about symptoms because subjective descriptions may indicate more
severe limitations or restrictions than can be shown by objective medical evidence alone.” SSR
96-8p. However, it is the claimant’s responsibility to provide medical evidence showing how her
impairments affect her functioning. 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(c). Therefore, when the record does
not support specific physical or mental limitations on a claimant’s work related activity, the ALJ
must find that the claimant has no related functional limitations. See SSR 96-8p.
Logical Bridge from Headache Evidence to RFC
First, Boldt challenges the ALJ’s RFC determination based on his contention that the ALJ
did not build a logical bridge from the evidence of Boldt’s headaches to the RFC. This Court
does not agree. The ALJ need not specifically address every piece of evidence in the record, but
must present a “logical bridge” from the evidence to his conclusions. O’Connor-Spinner, 627
F.3d at 618. Nevertheless, an ALJ’s analysis of evidence related to migraines, like any other
evidence in the record, must be logically connected to his RFC determination. See Moon v.
Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 719 (7th Cir. 2014). However, a claimant must do more to establish a
disabling impairment than merely show its presence. See Estok v. Abfel, 152 F.3d 636, 640 (7th
Here, Boldt argues that the interrogatory responses from medical expert and
ophthalmologist Dr. Greenberg, upon which the ALJ relied, mistakenly failed to consider Boldt’s
headaches. Dr. Greenberg responded to the ALJ’s medical interrogatories, which sought opinion
evidence regarding Boldt’s work-related abilities, after Boldt’s hearing.
After reviewing Boldt’s medical record, Dr. Greenberg opined that Boldt would be
restricted to work involving no dangerous machinery, heights, or commercial driving because of
his impairments. Dr. Greenberg’s interrogatory responses expressly identified Boldt’s
impairments as 1) status post severe right eye trauma and surgical repair, 2) photophobia, 3)
headaches related to photophobia, and 4) minor cataract changes in left eye. Dr. Greenberg
further acknowledged that Boldt’s headaches could be associated with photophobia but could not
state conclusively that Boldt’s photophobia would cause the severity of headaches alleged by
Boldt. As a result, Dr. Greenberg suggested that Boldt consult a neurologist to evaluate his
headaches further. Thus, Dr. Greenberg’s responses, upon which the ALJ relied, explicitly did
consider Boldt’s headaches despite Boldt’s contention to the contrary. In addition, the ALJ
explained Dr. Greenberg’s findings, cited to Dr. Greenberg’s report numerous times, and relied
upon Dr. Greenberg’s opinion in defining the work-related limitations in Boldt’s RFC.
The ALJ only enhanced the requisite “logical bridge” by noting Boldt’s subsequent visit
to neurologist Dr. Toth-Russell in early January 2013, nearly seven months after Boldt’s last
insured date, for evaluation of his headaches. The ALJ also noted Dr. Toth-Russell’s
prescription of Magnesium to treat Boldt’s headaches. The ALJ specifically explained that he
had considered Dr. Toth-Russell’s report in determining Boldt’s RFC even though the report had
only been issued recently. The ALJ supported his RFC citing Dr. Toth-Russell’s report and her
prescribed conservative treatment plan for Boldt’s headaches as evidence that his headaches
were not as limiting as he had alleged.
In sum, it is one thing for a claimant to establish an impairment; however, it is quite
another for a claimant to show that an impairment has caused disabling limitations within the
relevant period as was Boldt’s burden here. Based on the evidence in the record, the ALJ found
that Boldt’s headaches were an impairment but that they did not cause disabling limitations
within the relevant period. The ALJ relied on Dr. Greenberg’s opinion as to Boldt’s limitations
due to his impairments, which included his headaches. And despite the recency of Dr. TothRussell’s report regarding Boldt’s headaches, the ALJ favorably considered her diagnosis in
articulating the rationale for Boldt’s RFC. Thus, the ALJ properly built a sufficient logical
bridge from the evidence regarding Boldt’s headaches to the RFC. Moreover, Boldt has not
provided any medical evidence to show that his headaches caused greater limitations during the
relevant period than those incorporated in the RFC.
Second, Boldt challenges the ALJ’s RFC determination alleging that the ALJ improperly
evaluated the opinion evidence of alleged treating physicians Dr. Toth-Russell, neurologist, and
Dr. Bartlett, optometrist, both of whom Boldt visited for the first time in January 2013. Boldt
specifically argues that (1) the December 2012 MRI results that Dr. Toth-Russell inconclusively
evaluated linked to Boldt’s headaches, which he alleged were occurring before his last insured
date of June 30, 2012; and (2) the ALJ should have asked a medical professional to review the
December 2012 MRI results, which could have been new and potentially decisive medical
evidence regarding the worsening of Boldt’s headaches over time. The Court rejects both
Boldt’s arguments are premised on the fact that a treating physician’s opinion regarding
the nature and severity of a medical condition is entitled to controlling weight if it is well
supported by medical findings and is not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the
record. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 870 (7th Cir. 2000); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(d)(2); SSR 96-2p. In assessing the weight given to a particular medical opinion, the
ALJ must consider whether a physician is a treating or examining physician; the length, nature,
and extent of the treatment relationship; the physician’s specialty; and the consistency and
supportability of the physician’s opinion. Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 979 (7th Cir. 1996); see
also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(a)–(d).
Yet here, the record does not establish that Toth-Russell or Bartlett were treating sources.
A treating source is a claimant’s own medical source who provides medical treatment or
evaluation and has, or has had, an ongoing treatment relationship with the claimant. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1502. Toth-Russell and Bartlett examined Boldt only once before the date of the ALJ’s
decision. Doctors who examine patients only once do not have an ongoing relationship with the
patient and are therefore nontreating medical sources. White v. Barnhart, 415 F.3d 654, 658 (7th
Cir. 2005). Therefore, neither Toth-Russell nor Bartlett had an ongoing relationship with Boldt
at the time of the ALJ’s decision and are not treating sources. Boldt invites the Court to reach a
different conclusion arguing that the medical evidence shows the beginnings of an ongoing
relationship with both doctors. This is a leap the Court cannot make based on the nature of
Boldt’s relationship with Toth-Russell and Bartlett at the time of the ALJ’s decision.
As a result, the Court must determine whether the ALJ gave proper weight to TothRussell’s and Bartlett’s opinions in their capacities as nontreating medical sources. The ALJ is
not required to assign a nontreating source opinion controlling weight and is permitted to
evaluate the opinion’s weight in light of other regulatory factors. See Simila v. Astrue, 573 F.3d
503, 514 (7th Cir. 2009); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(1)–(6). These other factors include
the claimant’s examining and treatment relationship with the source of the opinion; the
physician’s specialty; the support provided for the medical opinion; its consistency with the
record as a whole; and any other factors that tend to support or contradict the opinion. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c)(1)-(6); see also Larson v. Astrue, 615 F.3d 744, 751 (7th Cir. 2010). If the ALJ
discounts a physician’s opinion after considering these factors, that decision must stand so long
as the ALJ “ ‘minimally articulate[d]’ ” his reasons—a very deferential standard that [has been]
deemed “lax.” Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 545 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Rice v. Barnhart,
384 F.3d 363, 372 (7th Cir. 2004)).
First, as to Dr. Toth-Russell’s opinion, the ALJ properly weighed her opinion according
to the regulatory factors. The ALJ explained the treatment relationship between Boldt and Dr.
Toth-Russell in his opinion when he referenced the date of her report and alluded to her recent
examination of Boldt. The ALJ addressed Dr. Toth-Russell’s specialty when he referred to her
as a neurologist, explained that the MRI she conducted was of the brain, stated the treatment was
for headaches, and described her as doctor throughout the decision. The ALJ also discussed any
inconsistency between Dr. Toth-Russell’s opinion and the medical record when he noted a
possible source of Boldt’s headaches other than photophobia as compared to Dr. Toth-Russell’s
decision to recommend only a conservative Magnesium treatment.
The ALJ also focused on the recency of Dr. Toth-Russell’s report, dated January 7, 2013,
more than two months after the hearing and nearly seven months after Boldt’s date last insured.
The ALJ pointed to the recency aspect as a basis for why the headaches were not a “disabling”
impairment. This is important because Boldt’s date last insured for disability was June 30, 2012.
Moreover, the ALJ could not explain his consideration of Dr. Toth-Russell’s opinion of Boldt’s
limitations because she never offered any. She only offered her diagnosis for the headaches and
began the conservative Magnesium treatment. Accordingly, the ALJ weighed Dr. Toth-Russell’s
opinion according to the regulatory factors for a nontreating source opinion.
Second, as to Dr. Bartlett’s opinion, the ALJ made no mention of the weight he gave Dr.
Bartlett’s opinion in the decision. An ALJ is not required to follow a nontreating source opinion,
but cannot ignore it and must explain the weight given to it in his decision. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1527(b); SSR 96-6. The ALJ’s failure to mention Dr. Bartlett’s opinion is therefore error.
Error, however, may be harmless. Courts will not remand cases to an ALJ for further
proceedings when convinced that the ALJ will reach the same result. See McKinzey v. Astrue,
641 F.3d 884, 891-892 (7th Cir. 2011). In such a case, remand would be a waste of time and
resources for both the Commissioner and the claimant. Id.
Here, review of the record convinces this Court that no reasonable ALJ would reach a
contrary decision on remand even if Dr. Bartlett’s opinion was considered. Boldt saw Dr.
Bartlett for the first time nearly two-and-a-half months after the hearing and nearly seven months
after Boldt’s date last insured. Dr. Bartlett’s report was submitted to the ALJ a little over a week
before the ALJ’s decision. As of the date of the ALJ’s decision, the record showed Boldt was
examined by Dr. Bartlett only once and Dr. Bartlett’s initial examination was consistent with the
other medical evidence in the record. Dr. Bartlett’s exam generally confirmed the ALJ’s finding
of a diminishing visual capacity in Boldt’s left eye. Most notably, nothing in Dr. Bartlett’s report
pertained to Boldt’s condition during the period prior to his last insured date.
Furthermore, Dr. Bartlett’s opinion that Boldt’s limited field of view would be a liability
in most work environments reaches a conclusion on an issue reserved to the Commissioner. By
regulation, an ALJ will not give any special significance to the source of an opinion on issues
reserved to the Commissioner such as the RFC or the application of vocational factors. See
404.1527(d)(1)–(3). Dr. Bartlett’s opinion amounts to a dispositive administrative finding
regarding Boldt’s RFC that the ALJ is not compelled to give any special significance.
In sum, even if Dr. Bartlett’s opinion was relevant to the disability period, it was
immaterial to the outcome and the ALJ’s error in not considering this evidence was harmless.
Thus, the ALJ did not commit reversible error in weighing the opinion evidence offered by either
Dr. Toth-Russell or Dr. Bartlett.
Boldt has also failed to persuade the Court that the December 2012 MRI constituted new
and material evidence that would create a link to limitations during the insured period as a result
of Boldt’s headaches. Under sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), remand is proper if a claimant
can show that “there is new evidence which is material and that there is good cause for the
failure to incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding.” Perkins v. Chater,
107 F.3d 1290, 1296 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Evidence is “new” if it was
“not in existence or available to the claimant at the time of the administrative proceeding.” Id.
New evidence is “material” if there is a “reasonable probability” that the ALJ would have
reached a different conclusion had the evidence been considered. Johnson v. Apfel, 191 F.3d
770, 776 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, new evidence is material only if it is relevant to the claimant’s
condition “during the relevant time period encompassed by the disability application under
review.” Kapusta v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 94, 97 (7th Cir. 1990).
Both Dr. Toth-Russell’s and Dr. Bartlett’s January 2013 examinations and opinions, as
well as the December 2012 MRI results, would likely be considered “new” evidence because
they were not in existence at the time of the administrative hearing. More importantly, however,
they are immaterial because neither pertained to Boldt’s condition during the relevant insured
period. Moreover, neither Dr. Toth-Russell nor Dr. Bartlett gave a retroactive opinion that
would link Boldt’s symptoms in January 2013 to earlier headaches. Thus, the ALJ was not
obligated to consider the December 2012 and January 2013 medical evidence.
Third, Boldt challenges the ALJ’s RFC determination alleging that the ALJ improperly
evaluated the credibility of Boldt’s subjective symptoms. In assessing a claimant’s subjective
symptoms, particularly pain, the ALJ must follow a two-step process. SSR 96-7p. First, the ALJ
must determine whether there is a medically determinable impairment that can be shown by
acceptable medical evidence and can be reasonably expected to produce the claimant’s pain or
other symptoms. Id. Second, after showing an underlying physical or mental impairment that
could reasonably be expected to produce the claimant’s pain or other symptoms, the ALJ must
evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the impairment to determine the extent
to which the symptoms limit the claimant’s ability to work. Id.
Whenever a claimant’s statements about the symptoms and limitations of his impairment
are not substantiated by objective medical evidence, the ALJ must make a finding on the
credibility of the individual’s statements based on a consideration of the entire case record. Id.
The ALJ may not discredit a claimant’s testimony about her pain and limitations solely because
there is no objective medical evidence supporting it. Carradine v. Barnhart, 360 F.3d 751, 753
(7th Cir. 2004). Where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a
claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the Secretary or the Secretary’s
designate, the ALJ. Herr v. Sullivan, 912, F.2d 178, 181 (7th Cir. 1990).
Although a claimant for social security disability benefits can establish the severity of his
symptoms by his own testimony, his subjective complaints need not be accepted insofar as they
clash with other, objective medical evidence in the record. Arnold v. Barnhart, 473 F.3d 816,
823 (7th Cir. 2007). An ALJ is free to discount an applicant’s testimony on the basis of other
evidence in the record. Johnson v. Barnhart, 449 F.3d 804, 804 (7th Cir. 2006). Because an ALJ
is in a special position to hear, see, and assess witnesses, her credibility determinations are given
special deference and will only be overturned if they are patently wrong. Shideler v. Astrue, No.
11-3284, 2012 WL 2948539, at *4 (7th Cir. July 20, 2012). An ALJ’s credibility determination
will only be considered patently wrong when it lacks any explanation or support. Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413–14 (7th Cir. 2008).
Here, in determining the credibility of Boldt’s testimony regarding the symptoms
associated with his headaches, the ALJ concluded that his medically determined impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause the symptoms he alleged in his testimony. However, the
ALJ found that Boldt’s “statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of
these symptoms [were] not entirely credible to the reasons explained in this decision.” Doc. No.
9 at 19.
The ALJ found Boldt’s testimony that he would have headaches that sometimes last all
day requiring him to lay in his room all day in the dark for relief not entirely credible. The ALJ
justified his credibility finding by listing other evidence in the record that conflicted with Boldt’s
allegations. First, the ALJ noted that the AOA ophthalmologist in August 2011expressly opined
that Boldt had a “full” visual field in his left eye, and “can see to work with his left eye.” Id. at
20. Second, the ALJ relied again upon the recency of Dr. Toth-Russell’s exam and treatment for
Boldt’s headaches. Third, the ALJ emphasized again that Dr. Toth-Russell inconclusively found
a potential cause of Boldt’s headaches in the December 2012 MRI but only treated his symptoms
conservatively without any prescription pain medicine. The ALJ even noted Boldt’s own
testimony that he was not taking any prescription medications during the relevant insured period.
Fourth, the ALJ reiterated the evidence in Dr. Greenberg’s responses to the medical
interrogatories, explaining that Dr. Greenberg had reviewed all of the record evidence including
the audio of Boldt’s testimony at the hearing. As such, the ALJ accepted Dr. Greenberg’s
opinion about Boldt’s functional limitations related to dangerous machinery, heights, and
In sum, the AOA report, the recency and conservative nature of Dr. Toth-Russell’s
treatment, and Dr. Greenberg’s opinion are all in stark contrast to the subjective limitations
alleged by Boldt during the relevant period. The ALJ was free to discount Boldt’s testimony on
that basis. Therefore, the ALJ properly supported his credibility determination with substantial
evidence such that it was not patently wrong.
Step Four Past Relevant Work Analysis
Lastly, Boldt challenges the ALJ’s Step Four finding. Based on Boldt’s testimony as
well as the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Boldt’s past relevant work,
based on his work at a small bedding company where he engaged in sales and assisted with
loading and unloading trucks, matched two different DOT occupations—materials handler and
sales attendant. At the hearing, the VE responded to the ALJ’s hypothetical, including a
limitation on depth perception, stating that Boldt could not perform in a materials handler
position, but could perform the job of sales attendant. Accordingly, the ALJ found that Boldt
was not disabled at Step Four because he could still work as a sales attendant despite the
limitations accounted for in his RFC. Boldt, however, contends that the ALJ erred in finding
Boldt could return to work as a sales attendant because his past relevant work constituted
Under SSR 82-62, an ALJ must make the following specific findings of fact as to (1) the
claimant’s RFC, (2) the physical and mental demands of the past occupation, and (3) whether the
claimant’s RFC would permit his return to the past occupation when adjudicating the issue of
past relevant work at Step Four. Here, Boldt alleges that the ALJ failed to make adequate
findings on the second and third issues by failing to assess whether Boldt’s previous job with the
bedding company a “composite job.” Composite jobs have significant elements of two or more
occupations and, as such, have no counterpart in the DOT. See SSR 82-61.
Admittedly, the ALJ’s opinion includes no discussion of the demands of Boldt’s job at
the bedding company or whether it constituted a composite job. However, past relevant work is
a term that “refers to the type of job, not to idiosyncratic duties that the employer may have
imposed.” Hughes v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 276, 279 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1560(b)(2)). At Step Four, the ALJ is not required to consider whether a claimant can
return to his specific past relevant job, but whether he can return to a job he held that exists at
other employers. See Smith v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 251, 253 (7th Cir. 2004). “In other words, the
ALJ need not conclude that the claimant is capable of returning to the precise job he used to
have; it is enough that the claimant can perform jobs substantially like that one.” Getch v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 473, 482 (7th Cir. 2008)). As a result, a claimant will be found “not disabled”
when he retains the RFC to perform the actual functional demands and job duties of a particular
past relevant job or the functional demands and job duties of the occupation as generally required
by employers throughout the national economy. SSR 82-61.
Here, the ALJ relied on the VE, who testified that Boldt’s past job at the bedding
company including both an aspect of sales and an aspect of materials handling, identifying DOT
numbers for both occupations. The ALJ used these DOT occupations to reach his Step Four
conclusion. Specifically, the ALJ found that Boldt retained the RFC to perform his past relevant
work as a sales attendant, as it is generally performed. However, the ALJ also found that Boldt
did not retain the RFC to perform his past relevant work as a materials handler. As a result, the
ALJ’s finding suggests that Boldt cannot return to the precise sales job he once held at the
bedding company due to the loading requirements. Nevertheless, the ALJ’s Step Four
determination that Boldt is not disabled must be affirmed under Smith, Getch, and the
administrative guideposts because he retains the RFC to perform his previous work as a sales
attendant, which exists at other employers throughout the national economy.
Boldt’s contention that his depth perception limitations prevent him from performing any
of his past relevant work because his past sales job constituted composite work is unpersuasive.
Boldt’s case is not a situation where a previous job or jobs had no counterpart in the DOT.
Moreover, any potential Step Four error would be harmless in this situation. If the Court were to
remand, finding fault with the ALJ’s failure to articulate a composite job analysis, the ALJ’s
disability analysis would proceed to Step Five. At Step Five, the ALJ would have to determine
whether Boldt would be able to perform any other work, existing in significant numbers in the
national economy, given his RFC, age, education, and work experience. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1512(g); 404.1520(g). With the VE’s testimony that Boldt could still perform work as a
sales attendant and that such jobs do exist nationally, the ALJ would be forced to reach the same
conclusion that Boldt is not disabled and not entitled to disability benefits. Therefore, any Step
Four error that may exist is harmless and does not warrant remand.
For the reasons discussed above, this Court concludes that the ALJ’s disability
determination related to Boldt’s DIB application is supported by substantial evidence. Thus, this
Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner’s decision pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
The Clerk is instructed to term the case and enter judgment in favor of the Commissioner.
Dated this 12th Day of August, 2015.
S/Christopher A. Nuechterlein
Christopher A. Nuechterlein
United States Magistrate Judge
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