or rare use of her upper extremities." R. 50. The expert
explained that the jobs he previously recommended were "at the
higher end of the occasional definition or twenty to thirty-three
percent of the time." Id. Therefore, under the limitation of
"less than about twenty percent" use of upper extremities, the
vocational expert opined that Plaintiff could not effectively
perform the recommended jobs. Id.
In his final hypothetical question, the ALJ asked: "If I assume
that everything the claimant has testified to here this morning
is true, could she return to her past relevant work or do any
other work?" R. 50. With respect to her ability to do her past
work, the vocational expert stated that Plaintiff could not
perform such work because of the lifting she was required to
do.*fn2 Id. With respect to her performance of other jobs, the
vocational expert explained that if occasional use of her hands
causes pain then she would not be able to perform any jobs. R.
C. The ALJ's Findings and Conclusions
In step five of his analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
capable of performing significant work in the national economy.
R. 19. He found that Plaintiff "retains the residual functional
capacity for the performance of light work activity, requiring
only occasional use of her hands and arms;" however, she "would
be precluded from engaging in activities involving occasional
lifting of more than 20 pounds or frequent lifting and carrying
of more than 10 pounds." Id. Although the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work which
required repetitive hand and finger movements, he found that
under the defined residual functional capacity Plaintiff could
perform jobs such as an appointment and reception clerk,
gate/access clerk, sales attendant, and information clerk. R.
18-19. Finding that Plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act, the ALJ denied her claim for
disability insurance benefits. R. 19.
In making his decision, the ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's
credibility considering the following factors: the objective
medical evidence, Plaintiff's daily activities, the nature of
Plaintiff's symptoms; precipitating and aggravating factors, the
medications and any side effects, and other treatment and
measures to relieve symptoms. R. 17-18. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff was credible "only to the extent that she would be
limited to the performance of light work, with only occasional
use of her hands and arms." R. 18. He noted that the objective
medical tests "fail to substantiate to the degree of functional
loss alleged by the claimant in this case," and that Plaintiff's
stated range of daily activities are inconsistent with total
Under the Social Security Act, a person must be disabled in
order to be eligible for benefits. A person is disabled if she
has an "inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by
reason of a 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 then
12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a). In order to determine
whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ
considers the following five questions in order:
1. Is the claimant presently unemployed?
2. Is the claimant's impairment severe?
3. Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of
a list of specific impairments enumerated in the
4. Is the claimant unable to perform her former
5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work?
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)-(f). An affirmative answer at either step
three or step five leads to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. Young v. Secretary of Health and Human Services,
957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer at any step,
other than step three, precludes a finding of disability. Id.
The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four.
Id. Once the claimant shows an inability to perform past work,
the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show ability to engage
in other work existing in significant numbers in the national
Judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining
whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence
or based upon legal error. Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151,
1153 (7th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is "such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support
a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91
S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). This Court may not substitute
its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts,
reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding
questions of credibility. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638
(7th Cir. 1998).
Plaintiff does not contest the ALJ's conclusions at steps one
through four, including his determination that Plaintiff cannot
perform her past relevant work. Plaintiff only disputes the ALJ's
step five determination. In her motion for summary judgment,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is undermined by his
incomplete hypothetical question to the vocational expert
regarding her residual functional capacity which failed to
consider one of Plaintiff's alleged physical limitations.
Plaintiff also asserts, in response to Defendant's summary
judgment argument, that the ALJ erroneously assessed Plaintiff's
credibility. The Court considers these argument in turn.
A. Plaintiff's Claim that the ALJ Posed an Incomplete
Plaintiff argues that the hypothetical question relied upon by
the ALJ in his step five analysis failed to take into account her
inability to perform jobs requiring repetitive hand use.
According to Plaintiff, the ALJ initially considered this
limitation when he asked the vocational expert whether Plaintiff
was capable of performing her past relevant work but then
eliminated the restriction in asking whether Plaintiff could
perform other jobs in the national economy. Plaintiff argues that
the ALJ's removal of the limitation caused the vocational expert
to identify available jobs that would require repetitive hand and
finger use that Plaintiff is not capable of performing.