RATCLIFFE v. COLVIN
ENTRY on Judicial Review-The Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and that that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. Therefore, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision. Signed by Magistrate Judge Denise K. LaRue on 3/22/2017.(CBU)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
STACEY D. RATCLIFFE,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security,
Entry on Judicial Review
Stacey D. Ratcliffe brings this action for review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the
Commissioner’s denial of her claim for supplemental security income. For the following
reasons, the Commissioner’s decision will be affirmed.
Ratcliffe applied in August 2012 for supplemental security income, alleging
disability since January 2009 due to physical and mental impairments, including posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression. She only challenges the
Administrative Law Judge’s decision with respect to her mental impairments, so only
those impairments are addressed in this entry.
This is not Ratcliffe’s first application for benefits. She previously sought benefits
and an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a decision on June 16, 2011, denying her
claim. The district court affirmed. The determination that she was not disabled on or
before June 16, 2011, is final and not at issue here. Thus, the focus in this case is on
Ratcliffe’s condition after that date.
The ALJ held a hearing at which Ratcliffe testified. She was working part-time at
a McDonald’s restaurant, two and a half days per week. [R. 36.] She worked as a crew
trainer, cashier, and lead worker with supervisory responsibilities. [R. 37.] She worked
7-hour and 5-hour shifts. [R. 38.] She had been working at McDonald’s since 2012. [R.
41.] She earned just over ten thousand dollars a year in 2012 and 2013. [Id.] She declined
full-time work, she stated, because of her slow concentration and poor balance caused by
a lymphoma in her leg. [Id.]
At the time of the hearing, she was not receiving any mental health treatment. [R.
42.] She had stopped taking psychotropic medications in March 2014 and still was not
taking any medications for depression or any mental health issues. [Id.] Yet she managed
to work part-time. [R. 43.] Ratcliffe testified that she gets irritated “a lot” and “let things
get to [her].” [R. 47.] She said she wants “to do something to somebody or to [herself]
because [she’s] irritated.” [Id.] But, she added, she doesn’t. [Id.] She said that she can’t
work full-time because of her irritability and anxiety. [R. 49.]
The ALJ found that although Ratcliffe worked after her application date in August
2012, she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity. [R. 14.] Nonetheless, the ALJ
determined that this work activity suggested greater capabilities than she alleged. [Id.]
Ratcliffe was found to have severe impairments including depressive disorder,
generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but none of these were
considered to meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment. [Id.] The ALJ determined
that Ratcliffe has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work with
limitations to account for her mental impairments. [R. 18.] Given her age, high school
education, and residual functional capacity, the ALJ found that Ratcliffe can perform jobs
existing in the national economy in significant numbers such as gate attendant, small
products assembler, and production assembler. [R. 23-24.] Therefore, the ALJ concluded
that Ratcliffe was not under a disability under the Social Security Act since the date her
application for supplemental security income was filed. [R. 24.]
When reviewing the ALJ’s decision, the Court determines whether it is supported
by substantial evidence and whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. See
Stepp v. Colvin, 795 F.3d 711, 718 (7th Cir. 2015); Roddy v. Astrue, 705 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir.
2013). The Court does not reweigh the evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, make
credibility determinations, or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ. See Stepp,
795 F.3d at 718; Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). An ALJ need not
mention every piece of evidence, Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586, 592 (7th Cir. 2012);
however, the ALJ but must build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his
conclusions. Varga v. Colvin, 794 F.3d 809, 813 (7th Cir. 2015).
Ratcliffe makes a slew of arguments, but most of them are undeveloped,
unsupported, or both. She first argues that the ALJ ignored or rejected evidence that
proved she was disabled, yet she fails to identify any specific evidence allegedly ignored
or rejected. She maintains that the ALJ erred in not giving controlling weight to the
opinions of her examining physicians proving she was disabled and failed to provide a
basis for rejecting the evaluations of treating providers, but again she fails to identify any
specific opinion or any particular evaluation at issue. The ALJ, Ratcliffe submits, also
misstated the evidence in order to minimize the severity of her impairments. But again,
she does not indicate what evidence was misstated. And she fails to point out what
psychological evidence she claims contradicts the ALJ’s decision. All of these arguments
are perfunctory and undeveloped and therefore are waived. See, e.g., Crespo v. Colvin, 824
F.3d 667, 673 (7th Cir. 2016) (“perfunctory and undeveloped arguments, and arguments
that are unsupported by pertinent authority, are waived”); Griffin v. Bell, 694 F.3d 817,
822 (7th Cir. 2012) (“arguments raised for the first time in a reply brief are deemed
Ratcliffe also argues that she offered substantial evidence to prove she was totally
disabled due to psychiatric problems. Yet, the Commissioner correctly observes that the
substantial-evidence argument in Ratcliffe’s opening brief is supported only by citation
to evidence that predated the Commissioner’s prior, final decision concluding Ratcliffe
was not disabled on or before June 16, 2011. For example, Ratcliffe refers to the GAF
score of 45 that she was given in May 2010 and the GAF score of 49 that she was given in
February 2010. [Pl.’s Br., doc. 22 at 11.] She must point to evidence from the relevant
time period—after June 17, 2011. Further, her opening brief cites no evidence to suggest
that her psychiatric problems have deteriorated since the Commissioner’s prior decision.
See Abendroth v. Barnhart, 26 F. App’x 580, 582-83 (7th Cir. 2002) (concluding that to
prevail on a second claim for disability, claimant had to prove that his condition
deteriorated to the point of disability after the time considered in the first claim); Thomas
v. Colvin, No. 14 C 7900, 2016 WL 1298680, at *3 (N.D. Ill. April 4, 2016) (noting that the
ALJ properly “considered the question of disability only with regard to Plaintiff’s SSI
claim beginning on [the date of the previous ALJ denial]“). The question of whether
Ratcliffe was disabled under the Social Security Act on or before June 16, 2011, has been
conclusively and finally decided. It is not at issue in this case. Her condition on or before
that date has relevance to this action only to the extent it provides background for her
condition after that date. The issue before the ALJ in this case is whether Ratcliffe was
disabled on or after August 2, 2012, the date she filed her second application for
supplemental security income.
In response to the Commissioner, Ratcliffe argues that the ALJ overlooked
evidence from the period after the date she filed her current application. Specifically, she
notes that she was evaluated at Midtown Mental Health Clinic on June 21, 2012, when
she was unable to work because of anxiety.
(The “Statement of Facts” section of
Ratcliffe’s opening brief mentions this evidence, but it is not mentioned or relied on in
the brief’s “Argument” section. [Pl.’s Br., doc. 22 at 5.]) In any event, the ALJ did not
overlook this evidence but instead her written decision discussed Ratcliffe’s treatment
from Midtown Mental Health. [See R. 16 (noting the treating psychiatrist described
Ratcliffe as calm and cooperative with adequate judgment and insight), 20 (discussing
Midtown Mental Health treatment notes).] An ALJ is not required to mention every little
bit of evidence in the record. See, e.g., Arnett, 676 F.3d at 592. Although the June 21
treatment note indicates that Ratcliffe has mental health issues, nothing in the note
establishes that she was disabled under the Social Security Act due to her psychiatric
problems, particularly on or after August 2, 2012. As the ALJ also noted, Ratcliffe
participated in group therapy for a few months, her therapist described her as talkative
and participatory, and her mental status exam remained within normal limits. [R. 21
(citing Ex. 10F, page 7), R. 512).]
Next, Ratcliffe points out that her mental health was evaluated by Dr. Ibrar
Paracha on October 6, 2012, at which time she complained of bipolar disorder,
depression, PTSD, panic attacks, and a sleeping disorder. [R. 503.] The internist opined
that she “has multiple psychiatric problems” and “needs a psychiatric evaluation.” [Id.]
(This evidence also was mentioned in the “Statement of Facts” section of Ratcliffe’s
opening brief, but not in her “Argument” section. [Pl.’s Br., doc. 22 at 5-6.]) The ALJ took
the evidence of this evaluation into account in reaching her decision. [R. 15, 19-20
(discussing Dr. Paracha’s examination and conclusions), 21.] Besides, “an ALJ need not
mention every snippet of evidence in the record.” Arnett, 676 F.3d at 592.
Third, Ratcliffe states that she received psychiatric treatment at a hospital
emergency room for panic attacks on four occasions since July 2013. These panic attacks
and ER visits were nowhere mentioned in Ratcliffe’s opening brief. Regardless, the ALJ
considered the evidence of these ER visits, noting that on each occasion Ratcliffe was
evaluated and released after brief treatment with instructions to resume therapy. [R. 21.]
However, Ratcliffe testified that she has not resumed therapy. And she presents no
argument as to why these four, brief panic attacks establish that she was disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. Any such argument is waived. See, e.g., Crespo,
824 F.3d at 673 (“perfunctory and undeveloped arguments, and arguments that are
unsupported by pertinent authority, are waived”).
According to Ratcliffe, the ALJ erred in not calling a medical advisor psychologist
to testify whether her combined mental impairments met or equaled a listed impairment.
She also argues that the ALJ cited no evidence regarding medical equivalence and simply
assumed her impairments did not meet or equal a listing. This is incorrect. The ALJ cited
the state agency psychologist’s opinion in the section of her decision addressing whether
Ratcliffe meets or medically equals a listing. [R. 15-16 (citing Ex. 3A).]
Furthermore, the ALJ addressed in her decision Ratcliffe’s request that she call a
medical expert to testify on the issue of medical equivalence, noting that the opinion of
the state agency psychological consultant was found in Exhibit 3A and that consideration
of such an opinion satisfies the requirement that an ALJ take into account a medical
expert’s opinion on the question of medical equivalence. [R. 11.] The state agency
psychologist’s opinion is substantial evidence on the question of medical equivalence.
See Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004) (concluding an ALJ may rely on
state-agency physicians’ opinions in disability forms and provide little additional
explanation where there is no contradictory evidence on medical equivalence in the
record). And Ratcliffe points to no contrary opinion on medical equivalence in the record.
Lastly, Ratcliffe challenges the ALJ’s hypothetical to the vocational expert on the
ground that it did not accurately reflect her impairments. But the hypothetical need only
account for those impairments and limitations that the ALJ finds the claimant to have.
See, e.g., Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 942 (7th Cir. 2002) (“Hypothetical questions posed
to vocational experts ordinarily must include all limitations supported by medical
evidence in the record.”).
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the ALJ’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence and that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. Therefore, the
Court will affirm the Commissioner’s decision.
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