Anglemyer v. Commissioner of Social Security
OPINION AND ORDER: The decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion and Order. Signed by Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 8/15/17. (cer)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Case No. 3:16-CV-167 JD
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Jamie Anglemyer applied for social security disability benefits, arguing that his
various physical and mental conditions combined to prevent him from maintaining any
employment. However, an administrative law judge found that he retained the capacity to
perform jobs that exist in significant numbers, so the Commissioner denied his application. The
administrative law judge wrote a thorough and detailed decision, but the Court finds that the
decision failed to adequately address the effects of Mr. Anglemyer’s limitations in concentration,
persistence, and pace. Accordingly, the Court reverses and remands for further proceedings.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Jamie Anglemyer worked for a number of years as a welder. However, he has not worked
since 2008, and he claims that his various health conditions leave him unable to work, so he
applied for social security disability benefits. The ALJ in this case found that he had multiple
severe impairments, including “obesity; history of left lower extremity arterial occlusion; history
of a seizure disorder; degenerative disc disease; sleep apnea; mild arthritis of the right hand;
depression, and a personality disorder.” (R. 13). The ALJ further found that he suffered from
diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but that those conditions did not cause
severe impairments. At the step three analysis, the ALJ discussed at length whether Mr.
Anglemyer met the criteria of listing 12.04 for affective disorders. She found that Mr.
Anglemyer had “moderate” but not “marked” difficulties in each of his activities of daily living,
his social functioning, and his concentration, persistence, and pace, so he did not meet or equal
The ALJ therefore proceeded to evaluate Mr. Anglemyer’s residual functional capacity.
She found that he was capable of performing sedentary work, with a variety of postural and
environmental limitations. She further found that, because of his limitations in social functioning
and concentration, persistence, and pace, Mr. Anglemyer would be limited to performing
“unskilled,” “low stress” work with only superficial interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and
the public, but that he “is able to sustain and attend to task throughout the eight-hour workday.”
(R. 18). Based on the testimony of a vocational expert, who was presented a series of
hypotheticals that included progressively more serious limitations, the ALJ found that Mr.
Anglemyer would be unable to perform his past work, but that he could work as a “sorter,”
“table worker,” or “assembler.” Accordingly, she found that he did not qualify as disabled under
the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Anglemyer’s request for review,
making the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Anglemyer therefore
filed this action seeking review of that decision.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Because the Appeals Council denied review, the Court evaluates the ALJ’s decision as
the final word of the Commissioner of Social Security. Schomas v. Colvin, 732 F.3d 702, 707
(7th Cir. 2013). This Court will affirm the Commissioner’s findings of fact and denial of
disability benefits if they are supported by substantial evidence. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668,
673 (7th Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
401 (1971). This evidence must be “more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.”
Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, even if “reasonable minds could
differ” about the disability status of the claimant, the Court must affirm the Commissioner’s
decision as long as it is adequately supported. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
It is the duty of the ALJ to weigh the evidence, resolve material conflicts, make
independent findings of fact, and dispose of the case accordingly. Perales, 402 U.S. at 399–400.
In this substantial-evidence determination, the Court considers the entire administrative record
but does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute the
Court’s own judgment for that of the Commissioner. Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d
535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Nevertheless, the Court conducts a “critical review of the evidence”
before affirming the Commissioner’s decision. Id. An ALJ must evaluate both the evidence
favoring the claimant as well as the evidence favoring the claim’s rejection and may not ignore
an entire line of evidence that is contrary to his or her findings. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d
881, 887 (7th Cir. 2001). Consequently, an ALJ’s decision cannot stand if it lacks evidentiary
support or an adequate discussion of the issues. Lopez, 336 F.3d at 539. Ultimately, while the
ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence or testimony presented, the ALJ must
provide a “logical bridge” between the evidence and the conclusions. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d
471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009).
Disability benefits are available only to those individuals who can establish disability
under the terms of the Social Security Act. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998).
Specifically, the claimant must be 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 create a five-step sequential
evaluation process to be used in determining whether the claimant has established a disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)–(v). The steps are to be used in the following order:
Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;
Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment;
Whether the claimant’s impairment meets or equals one listed in the regulations;
Whether the claimant can still perform relevant past work; and
Whether the claimant can perform other work in the community.
Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001).
At step three, if the ALJ determines that the claimant’s impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals an impairment listed in the regulations, disability is acknowledged
by the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). However, if a listing is not met or
equaled, then in between steps three and four, the ALJ must then assess the claimant’s Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”), which is defined as the most a person can do despite any physical
and mental limitations that may affect what can be done in a work setting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545.
The ALJ then uses the RFC to determine whether the claimant can perform his or her past work
under step four and whether the claimant can perform other work in society at step five. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The claimant has the initial burden of proof in steps one through four,
while the burden shifts to the Commissioner in step five to show that there are a significant
number of jobs in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing. Young v.
Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1000 (7th Cir. 2004).
Mr. Anglemyer presents a number of arguments in seeking reversal of the
Commissioner’s decision. Relative to his mental limitations, he argues that the ALJ failed to
properly address the opinions of his treating psychiatrist and a consultative examiner, and that
those opinions could have affected the ALJ’s listing analysis at step three or the RFC analysis at
step five, particularly by supporting more severe limitations in concentration, persistence, and
pace. He also argues that, even accepting the ALJ’s findings as to his concentration, persistence,
and pace, the RFC that the ALJ adopted failed to account for those limitations. Finally, as to his
physical limitations, Mr. Anglemyer argues that the ALJ failed to give adequate reasons for
discounting the opinions of two doctors. For the following reasons, the Court finds that the ALJ
erred with respect to Mr. Anglemyer’s limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, both in
failing to account for those limitations in the RFC, and in failing to address an opinion on that
topic by Mr. Anglemyer’s treating physician. Because remand is required on that basis, the Court
does not address Mr. Anglemyer’s remaining arguments, though he is free to raise them on
“As a general rule, both the hypothetical posed to the [vocational expert] and the ALJ’s
RFC assessment must incorporate all of the claimant’s limitations supported by the medical
record. This includes any deficiencies the claimant may have in concentration, persistence, or
pace.” Yurt v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 857 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted). Here, the
ALJ found at step three that Mr. Anglemyer had “moderate” difficulties in maintaining
concentration, persistence, and pace. She reiterated that finding in her RFC analysis, again
finding that he had “moderate difficulty with maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace.”
(R. 19). Accordingly, she was required to account for those limitations in formulating Mr.
The ALJ began on the right foot by noting that one cause of Mr. Anglemyer’s difficulties
in this respect was that he “would probably become angry if criticized and was poor at listening
to instructions.” (R. 19). The Seventh Circuit has held that one way to account for a claimant’s
difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace is to exclude the sorts of positions that are
likely to trigger those difficulties for a particular claimant. O’Connor-Spinner v. Astrue, 627 F.3d
614, 619 (7th Cir. 2010); Johansen v. Barnhart, 314 F.3d 283, 288–89 (7th Cir. 2002). Thus, the
ALJ limited Mr. Anglemyer to “low stress work” that would involve “simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks.” (R. 18–19). Since the instructions for those positions would be “simple and
easy to follow,” (R. 19), this limitation would exclude this particular trigger for Mr. Anglemyer’s
difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace.
The ALJ continued, however, and noted that Mr. Anglemyer also suffered from
depression and from sleep apnea, and that both of those conditions “had an impact on [Mr.
Anglemyer’s] energy level and ability to sustain concentration and pace.” (R. 19). Unfortunately,
the ALJ never proceeded to account for those limitations in Mr. Anglemyer’s RFC or to explain
why no such limitations were warranted. The RFC did limit Mr. Anglemyer to performing lowstress, unskilled work, with limited interactions with others, as just discussed, but those
limitations do not necessarily correlate with his deficiencies in concentration, persistence, and
pace—the Seventh Circuit has “repeatedly rejected the notion that a hypothetical . . . confining
the claimant to simple, routine tasks and limited interactions with others adequately captures
temperamental deficiencies and limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace.” Yurt, 758
F.3d at 858–59; O’Connor-Spinner, 627 F.3d at 620 (“In most cases, . . . employing terms like
‘simple, repetitive tasks’ on their own will not necessarily exclude from the [vocational expert’s]
consideration those positions that present significant problems of concentration, persistence and
The Seventh Circuit addressed an RFC similar to the one here in Varga, where the
claimant likewise had moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace.
Varga, 794 F.3d at 814–15. There, the RFC limited the claimant to performing “simple, routine,
and repetitive tasks,” with limited interaction with coworkers or supervisors and few if any
workplace changes. Id. The Seventh Circuit held that these limitations failed to adequately
address the claimant’s difficulties, as limiting the complexity of a task does not address an
individual’s ability to continue performing the task over an extended period of time, and the
latter limitations dealt “largely with workplace adaptation, rather than concentration, pace, or
persistence.” Id.; see also O’Connor-Spinner, 627 F.3d at 620 (“The ability to stick with a given
task over a sustained period is not the same as the ability to learn how to do tasks of a given
complexity.”). The same is true here.
In defending the ALJ’s decision, the Commissioner does not dispute that analysis.
Instead, she argues that in adopting this RFC, the ALJ relied on the opinions of the state agency
reviewing psychologists to translate Mr. Anglemyer’s difficulties in concentration, persistence,
and pace into these functional limitations. However, the ALJ’s decision does not show that she
actually relied on the agency psychologists in that respect. The ALJ’s decision only cites the
agency psychologists’ reports during its step-three analysis, in support of the ALJ’s finding that
Mr. Anglemyer had “moderate difficulty with concentration, persistence, and pace.” (R. 16). But
finding that an individual has moderate difficulties in those areas is a separate issue from
determining what effect those difficulties have on an individual’s RFC, as just discussed. The
ALJ’s decision does not indicate that she relied on the agency psychologists’ opinions in that
latter respect, and the Court cannot affirm the Commissioner’s decision for reasons not provided
by the ALJ, Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 922 (7th Cir. 2010), so the Court cannot find that the
ALJ’s decision was justified on that basis.
This error is further exacerbated by the ALJ’s failure to acknowledge an opinion on this
particular issue by Mr. Anglemyer’s treating psychiatrist, Dr. Ali. In December 2012, Dr. Ali
completed a Report of Psychiatric Status form prepared by the Social Security Administration,
which sought a variety of information on Mr. Anglemyer’s conditions and limitations. One of the
questions asked Dr. Ali to describe Mr. Anglemyer’s “ability to attend to a simple work routine
on a consistent basis.” (R. 719). Dr. Ali responded: “Would not be able to do mindless task
repeatedly. Would fall asleep or become angry.” Id. This opinion rebuts any suggestion that Mr.
Anglemyer’s difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace are alleviated by performing
unskilled work, and indicates that such work would actually amplify those difficulties. This
opinion also directly contradicted the ALJ’s finding that Mr. Anglemyer “can perform simple,
routine, and repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work and is able to sustain and attend to
task throughout the eight-hour workday.” (R. 18).
However, the ALJ’s decision did not acknowledge or address this particular opinion by
Dr. Ali. The Commissioner argues that an ALJ need not provide a written evaluation of every
piece of evidence in the record, Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363, 371 (7th Cir. 2004), and that the
ALJ did address other opinions by Dr. Ali in this same form. However, as an opinion from Mr.
Anglemyer’s treating doctor that directly contradicted the RFC finding, this opinion did warrant
acknowledgment, and the ALJ was required to provide a “good reason” before discounting it.
Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 2011). The Commissioner also argues that other parts
of the ALJ’s decision show that the ALJ must have discounted this opinion as inconsistent with
other evidence. In particular, she argues that the ALJ also noted that Mr. Anglemyer’s
examinations in early 2013 were within normal limits, and that his Global Assessment of
Functioning scores were in the 50s. (R. 16–17, 19). Again, however, the ALJ’s decision itself
does not show that the ALJ actually relied on that evidence to discount this opinion by Dr. Ali.
Rather, the ALJ cited that evidence in support of her conclusion that Mr. Anglemyer’s
difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace were “no more than moderate,” id., but as
discussed above, even moderate difficulties in those areas must be accounted for in an
individual’s RFC. Accordingly, the Court cannot find that any oversight in that respect is
The Court therefore finds that a remand is required for the ALJ to revisit the effect that
Mr. Anglemyer’s difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace would have on his RFC.
Because remand is required on that basis, the Court does not address Mr. Anglemyer’s additional
arguments relative to the ALJ’s listing analysis or her handling of the other opinion evidence,
though the parties are free to take up those matters on remand.1 Finally, the conclusion of Mr.
Anglemyer’s brief seeks an outright award of benefits. However, that request is waived, as it was
not raised or developed in the body of the brief, and it is also unwarranted, as the record is not so
one-sided as to compel a finding that he is disabled.
For those reasons, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner’s decision and REMANDS
this matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
One point is worth noting, though. The ALJ stated that Mr. Anglemyer’s GAF scores of 50 and
55 suggested “no more than moderate” difficulties. (R. 19; see also R. 15). Mr. Anglemyer
argues that, while scores of 51–60 represent “moderate” symptoms, scores or 50 or less represent
“serious” symptoms. If true, it would be appropriate for the ALJ to acknowledge that distinction
in order to avoid an appearance that she misconstrued the evidence.
ENTERED: August 15, 2017
/s/ JON E. DEGUILIO
United States District Court
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