decision in the present case to that in Rohan, this Court finds
that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence
in the record and is incorrect.
A. The Claimant Meets Listing 12.05(C)
Plaintiff's primary argument is that the ALJ erred in finding
that he did not meet the requirements of listing 12.05(C) on
mental retardation. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.
Plaintiff bears the burden of proving he meets all of the listing
requirements. Scott v. Sullivan, 898 F.2d 519, 523 (7th Cir.
1990). To meet the requirements of listing 12.05(C), plaintiff
had to prove that he had (1) a valid IQ score of 60 through 70;
(2) deficits in adaptive behavior that initially manifested
before the age of 22; and (3) another physical or mental
impairment that imposed additional and significant work-related
limitations of function. Id. When determining whether an
individual meets a listing, the agency strictly adheres to the
listed criteria, because an individual who meets a listing is
presumed disabled. In such a case, the agency inquires no further
into the severity of the individual's symptoms or his functional
abilities, age, education, or work history. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d), 404.1525.
The ALJ agrees that the claimant satisfies the IQ requirement
of 12.05(C) and that this IQ manifested itself before claimant
was 22. (R. at 13.) However, the ALJ found that there was "no
showing of additional significant or physical or mental
limitations." (R. at 13.) The ALJ's conclusion is not supported
by the record which reveals Williams had both significant
physical and other mental impairments that satisfy the listing
requirement in step three.
1. Physical Limitation
The medical evidence shows that Williams suffered from severe
back and foot pain that posed an additional limitation in his
work-related functions. Several physicians examined the claimant.
Dr. James Runke, a medical reviewer at the Illinois Department of
Public Aid diagnosed Williams with hypertension, a substance
abuse problem, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and
limited Williams to lifting no more than ten pounds. (R. at 112.)
He also noted that the claimant had a 20% reduction in the
capacity to perform the activities of daily living. (R. at 112.)
Dr. Jaleel examined Williams and assessed him with low back pain
and limited plaintiff's lifting to no more than 20 pounds. (R. at
142-43.) Dr. Jaleel prescribed medications for his pain, such as
Ibuprofen 800 and noted limitations in the range of motion of the
back, paraspinal muscle spasms, and a positive straight leg raise
testing at 50 degrees. (R. at 160-61.) Williams' other treating
physician, Dr. Nayanaphatek, diagnosed him with hypertension and
arthritis of the back and leg and limited Williams to lifting no
more than 20 pounds. (R. at 144-45.)
Despite the fact that these three physicians, two of whom were
the Plaintiff's treating physicians, substantially limited
Williams' capacity to lift, the ALJ nonetheless concluded that
the claimant had no exertional limitations that qualify as a
disabling condition. (R. at 15-16.) The ALJ refuted the degree of
severity found by Dr. Jaleel because this "limitation was not
consistent with his treatment notes." (R. at 16.) However, the
treatment notes to which the ALJ refers prescribe to Williams the
pain medication Ibuprofen. (R. at 144-5, 160.) The ALJ did not
even acknowledge Dr. Runke's assessment of Williams. The ALJ
rejected Dr. Nayanaphatek's assessment because it was "unreasoned
and undocumented" and because the treatment records had not been
produced. (R. at 16.)
In so doing, the ALJ did not properly articulate his rationale
for rejecting and refuting certain evidence in the record. As
such, he has failed to meet the minimal articulation standard
required of an ALJ:
An ALJ . . . must articulate, at some minimum level,
his analysis of the evidence to allow the appellate
court to trace the path of his reasoning. An ALJ's
failure to consider an entire line of evidence falls
below the minimal level of articulation required . .
. [But] an ALJ need not provide a complete written
evaluation of every piece of testimony and evidence.
Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 307-08 (7th Cir. 1995).
Consequently, the ALJ was required to provide at least some
statement to indicate why he completely ignored the assessments
of Dr. Runke, which he failed to do. With regard to his rejection
of Dr. Jaleel's finding of severity due to its inconsistency with
the treatment notes, the ALJ's conclusion appears to be
contradicted by the very record cite to which he refers. The
treatment notes which he found to be inconsistent are in fact
consistent with someone who is treating a patient with a back
condition because pain medication was prescribed.
One of the grounds that the ALJ provided as the basis of his
decision was the fact that Dr. Jaleel had only documented one
complaint of back pain by the Plaintiff in early August, 1996.
(R. at 15.) However, this can be explained by the treatment that
Dr. Jaleel provided for plaintiff's pain. At plaintiff's second
visit to Dr. Jaleel, he prescribed pain medication in the form of
Ibuprofen 800. (R. at 160.)
In reaching his conclusion of no physical limitations, the ALJ
also relies on Dr. Hawkins' assessment of the Plaintiff conducted
in 1993, which contained no diagnosis of a back condition. (R. at
15, 115-17.) However, this consultation lasted a mere 35 minutes.
(R. at 115.) The other evidence, consisting of over twenty
separate office visits by the Plaintiff, points to a conclusion
that Plaintiff did suffer physical limitations. The ALJ failed to
reconcile this evidence with his finding of no physical
limitations and, consequently, the ALJ improperly rejected this
evidence. The Court reverses the ALJ's conclusion that there is
no significant physical limitation as described in 12.05(C) of
the listings because the record clearly reveals that Plaintiff
had severe limitations.
2. Mental Limitation
The medical evidence shows that Williams had a cognitive
disorder that posed an additional limitation in his work-related
functions. Dr. Mosier diagnosed Williams with a cognitive
disorder, a reading disorder, and alcohol dependence in sustained
remission in her 1996 report. (R. at 133.) The ALJ did not
discuss this in his analysis of 12.05(C) and when he concludes
that Williams did not have any "additional . . . mental
limitations" accompanying his low IQ scores.
Not only did the ALJ reject the only medical evidence relating
to this subject, he then assessed the Plaintiff's cognitive
disorders himself by analyzing Williams daily activities. "The
fact that the claimant worked regularly and continuously at the
same job for 21 years (and a job that was arguably semi-skilled),
raised a family and has . . . activities of daily living and
social functioning represents an individual whose cognitive
disorder is not at listing level severity." (R. at 14.) However
the ALJ cannot "succumb to the temptation to play doctor."
Schmidt v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 117, 118 (7th Cir. 1990). In
Schmidt, the Seventh Circuit disagreed with an ALJ's conclusion
that a plaintiff could work because he played handball. Id. at
118-19. "Lay intuitions about medical phenomena are often wrong."
Id. By rejecting the medical evidence in favor of his own lay
diagnosis, playing doctor is exactly what the ALJ in the present
case did. It is not for the ALJ to conclude, based solely upon a
claimant's abilities to engage in certain limited activities,
that that claimant is not disabled.
Further, the ALJ "did not take into account the opinions
expressed on the psychiatric review technique form" because he
reasoned that "the opinion that one is disabled is one that is
reserved for the commissioner
of Social Security." (R. at 16.) The ALJ applies circular logic
here. The ALJ is using the Social Security regulation, which
provides for the Commissioner to make the ultimate decision of a
disability, to justify his rejection of medical evidence that is
contrary to his conclusion. The Seventh Circuit in Rohan v.
Chater, 98 F.3d 966 (7th Cir. 1996), disregarded similar logic.
Id. at 969-70. The regulation only allows the ALJ to make a
decision. The regulation doesn't justify the rejection of medical
evidence which points to a decision contrary to the ALJ's simply
because the ALJ is vested with final decision-making authority.
Consequently, the ALJ's reasoning for rejecting the psychiatric
review technique form is faulty and does not meet the minimum
articulation requirement of an ALJ. Diaz v. Chater,
55 F.3d 300, 307-08 (7th Cir. 1995).
B. The Claimant Cannot Return To His Past Relevant Work
There is abundant evidence in the record to support a finding
that Williams cannot return to his past relevant work as a
warehouse laborer. Despite the evidence in the record limiting
Plaintiff to lifting no more than twenty pounds due to a
debilitating foot and back condition, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff could return to his job, which required him to lift up
to 100 pounds. (R. at 15.) As noted earlier, the ALJ improperly
rejected the medical testimony which establishes that Williams is
physically limited. For the same reasons the evidence supports a
finding that Williams had a significant limitation under the
12.05(C) analysis, these physical limitations impose too great a
restriction on the claimant for him to return to work. Three
physicians found that the Plaintiff could not lift more than 20
pounds. The ALJ was not free to substitute his judgment for those
of the doctors. Rohan, 98 F.3d at 970-71.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment is granted and Defendant's motion for summary judgment
is denied, and the case is reversed and remanded to the
Commissioner for the award of disability benefits to plaintiff,
Amos L. Williams, consistent with this decision.