While an administrative law judge might have erred in his analysis of some factors in rejecting a woman’s disability benefits application, “enough” of his analysis supported his ruling, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in affirming the benefits denial.
Plaintiff-appellant Heather Tutwiler applied for disability benefits and supplemental security income following her cancer diagnosis in 2014. Radiation treatment caused significant side effects that led to multiple surgeries and other symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems.
Tutwiler worked housekeeping and laundry jobs, but her gastrointestinal issues caused problems because she frequently became ill at work or had to take time off. Her hours were cut from full time to part time to “as needed,” and she was eventually fired.
Tutwiler filed her benefits application in May 2019 and requested a hearing before an ALJ when the state denied her application.
The ALJ ultimately concluded that Tutwiler was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, determining instead that she could work as an information clerk, table worker inspector, sorter, document prepare and address clerk.
Tutwiler then sought judicial review, and the Indiana Northern District Court affirmed the ALJ.
The 7th Circuit also affirmed in Heather Tutwiler v. Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 22-2808.
Tutwiler’s appeal focused on the ALJ’s determination of her residual capacity. The judge had determined that she could perform sedentary work with some restrictions, including only occasionally climbing stairs or kneeling or crouching, but never climbing ladders or ropes.
“She argues on appeal that the ALJ failed to consider all her limitations in his analysis and that he ‘cherry-picked’ the record for facts that were unfavorable to Tutwiler,” Senior Judge David Hamilton wrote in the Thursday opinion. “But in the district court, Tutwiler set forth only one argument: that the ALJ failed to consider adequately how Tutwiler’s gastrointestinal symptoms prevented her from working.”
Thus, Tutwiler forfeited any argument not related to her gastrointestinal symptoms, Hamilton wrote, rejecting her reliance on Arnett v. Astrue, 676 F.3d 586 (7th Cir. 2012).
As for the merits of Tutwiler’s argument regarding her gastrointestinal symptoms, the 7th Circuit found reversal was not warranted.
“Although the ALJ might have erred in his analysis of some factors, enough of them had adequate supporting evidence for this court to uphold his credibility determination,” Hamilton wrote.
Further, “Taken as a whole, the medical evidence presented an ambiguous picture as to the severity and persistence of Tutwiler’s symptoms,” he continued. “The ALJ considered some evidence that could have supported a more restrictive residual functional capacity than the ALJ found here, but other substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s decision.
“Reasonable minds could disagree with the ALJ’s appraisal of this conflicting evidence,” Hamilton concluded. “Yet judicial review is not designed for appellate judges looking at a transcript to re-weigh conflicting evidence.”