that Ms. Iwachniuk has the residual functional capacity to perform the physical exertion and nonexertional requirements of work except for the capacity to follow complex job instructions; that Ms. Iwachniuk has no exertional impairments; that Ms. Iwachniuk has no past relevant work; and that Ms. Iwachniuk's nonexertional limitations do not significantly compromise her ability to perform work at all exertional levels. Tr. 17-18. The ALJ then concluded that, after considering the range of work at all levels which Ms. Iwachniuk is capable of performing, in combination with her age, education, and work experience, Ms. Iwachniuk is "not disabled." Tr. 18.
Number of Jobs Available to Ms. Iwachniuk
Ms. Iwachniuk argues, inter alia, that her residual functional capacity limitations, resulting from her impaired intellectual capabilities and a dependent personality disorder, render her unable to work.
To support this position, Ms. Iwachniuk relies on the testimony of Frank Mendrick, a vocational expert.
During the hearing, Mr. Mendrick was presented with numerous hypothetical situations and asked to opine whether jobs existed for a person who exhibited the hypothetical characteristics. One hypothetical asked by ALJ Stillerman involved a 37 year old woman who had an eighth grade education, had no limitations on her physical exertion, had an IQ around 80, and suffered from a dependent personality, but was otherwise oriented and alert, and had a small limitation in her ability to understand instructions, but could understand simple instructions. Tr. 225-26. Mr. Mendrick stated that 25,000 jobs existed for such a person in the areas of general assembly, hand packing, and machine operating/tending, but that number would be reduced by 40 percent because of that person's limitation in her ability to understand instructions. Tr. 226. Despite this limitation, the hypothetical person presented by ALJ Stillerman would have a significant number of jobs available to her.
ALJ Stillerman then asked Mr. Mendrick about the job prospects for a woman with a borderline intellect and a dependent personality, such that her emotional problems together caused "a very significant limitation in what [she] can understand and follow through on" because she could not follow simple instructions. Tr. 227. Mr. Mendrick responded that there would be few jobs available to such a person. Tr. 227.
Ms. Iwachniuk then presented two hypotheticals which incorporated the medical reports of Dr. Manjarret and Dr. Puntini. Tr. 229-33. In each case, Mr. Mendrick testified that there would be no jobs which the person with the diagnosed functional limitations could perform.
Despite the fact that the VE said there would be no jobs for a person with Ms. Iwachniuk's characteristics, ALJ Stillerman still found that there were jobs in the national economy which Ms. Iwachniuk could perform. In reaching this conclusion, ALJ Stillerman rejected the limitations on Ms. Iwachniuk's abilities noted by both Drs. Puntini and Manjarret. ALJ Stillerman, however, "cannot make his own independent medical determinations about the claimant." Rousey v. Heckler, 771 F.2d 1065, 1069 (7th Cir. 1985).
ALJ Stillerman explained that he rejected Dr. Manjarret's report because he found it internally inconsistent. In his report, Dr. Manjarret concluded that the plaintiff would have extreme limitations in working with simple instructions, interacting with supervisors or the public, and maintaining concentration or attention. ALJ Stillerman noted that Dr. Manjarret indicated "extreme" limitations in Ms. Iwachniuk's ability to work with simple instructions but found only "marked" limitations in working with detailed but uncomplicated instructions. Tr. 144.
Although the "extreme" limitations in Ms. Iwachniuk's ability to work with simple instructions is not entirely consistent with "marked" limitations in her ability to follow "detailed but uncomplicated" instructions, I do not think this inconsistency justifies completely disregarding Dr. Manjarret's report. See Scivally v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1070, 1076-77 (7th Cir. 1992) (finding evidence of a slight inconsistency in doctor's responses to be inadequate support for the ALJ's decision to reject the doctor's report). The difference between a "marked" limitation and an "extreme" limitation in Ms. Iwachniuk's ability to understand instructions is small -- especially when considered in light of the other limitations noted by Dr. Manjarret. Consequently, the alleged inconsistency in Dr. Manjarret's report does not justify the ALJ's rejection of it.
With respect to his rejection of Dr. Puntini's report, ALJ Stillerman stated that "her diagnosis was based on a disabling personality disorder, which the undersigned has concluded the claimant does not have." Tr. 16. He went on to note that he believed Ms. Iwachniuk's "most significant problem may not be her inability to work, but the overprotectiveness of her parents." Tr. 16-17. Essentially, ALJ Stillerman rejected all of Dr. Puntini's conclusions because he disagreed with her assessment that Ms. Iwachniuk's dependency disorder was disabling. Dr. Puntini's complete evaluation, however, diagnosed both a dependent personality and an impaired intellectual capacity. Consequently, the fact that the ALJ disagreed with Dr. Puntini's assessment as to whether Ms. Iwachniuk met the listing for a personality disorder does not justify disregarding her entire report. I find the ALJ's rejection of Dr. Puntini's report especially troubling because Dr. Puntini's assessment was matched by Dr. Manjarret's conclusions.
Despite contrary findings of Drs. Puntini and Manjarret, ALJ Stillerman simply did "not believe that [Ms. Iwachniuk] would have significant difficulties interacting with others in a competitive work situation." Tr. 17. ALJ Stillerman's decision to reject all of Dr. Puntini's findings and Dr. Manjarret's conclusion is not supported by substantial evidence. The little justification provided by him is inadequate, and there is no medical evidence or opinion in the record upon which he relied to contradict these conclusions. "In the absence of contradictory medical evidence, the ALJ impermissibly substituted his own medical judgment for that of the [psychologists]." Scivally, 966 F.2d at 1077. Because the VE testified that a person with Ms. Iwachniuk's characteristics, as assessed by either Dr. Puntini or Dr. Manjarret, would be unable to perform work in the national economy, I find the ALJ's decision that she is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act to be unsupported by the evidence.
For the foregoing reasons, Ms. Iwachniuk's motion for summary judgment is granted and the Commissioner's motion is denied.
Elaine E. Bucklo
United States District Judge
Dated: May 15, 1996
JUDGMENT IN A CIVIL CASE
Decision by Court. This action came to a hearing before the Court. The issues have been heard and a decision has been rendered.
IT IS ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied. ALJ's decision that the plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is reversed. Judgment is, therefore, entered in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant.
May 15, 1996