United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Dominic Masciola filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seek-ing judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security insurance benefits pur-suant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 216(i), 223(d), 1614(a)(3)(A). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and have filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the case is remanded for fur-ther proceedings consistent with this opinion.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Masciola applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits on January 29, 2008, alleging that he became disabled on January 1, 2007, due to bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorder. (R. at 78). The appli-cation was denied initially and on reconsideration, after which Masciola filed a timely request for a hearing. ( Id. at 58-61, 90-96, 98). On November 17, 2009, Mas-ciola, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). ( Id. at 7-57). The ALJ also heard testimony from Courtney Boyda, Masciola's case manager at DuPage Pads, a "permanent supportive housing pro-gram" ( id. at 37-48), and Linda Gels, a vocational expert ("VE") ( id. at 48-55).
The ALJ denied Masciola's request for benefits on February 25, 2010. (R. at 65-73). The ALJ first found that Masciola met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2010. ( Id. at 67). Applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ then found, at step one, that Masciola had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2007, the alleged onset date. ( Id. ). At step two, the ALJ found that Masciola's bipolar and substance abuse disorders were severe impairments. ( Id. ). At step three, the ALJ determined that Masciola does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of any of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id. at 67-69).
The ALJ then assessed Masciola's residual functional capacity (RFC) and deter-mined that he has the RFC to perform "a full range of unskilled work at all the ex-ertional levels subject to non-exertional limitations that the work... require per-formance of simple, repetitive tasks that requires no more than occasional contact with supervisors, co-workers, and the public." (R. at 69). At step four, the ALJ de-termined that Masciola is capable of performing past relevant work as a warehouse worker. ( Id. at 71). Making an alternative finding at step five, based on Masciola's RFC, age, education, work experience and the VE's testimony, the ALJ used the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the "Grid") to determine that there are jobs that ex-ist in significant numbers in the national economy that Masciola can perform. ( Id. at 72). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Masciola was not suffering from a disa-bility as defined by the SSA. ( Id. ).
The Appeals Council denied Masciola's request for review of the ALJ's decision on May 23, 2012. (R. at 1-6). Masciola now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's deci-sion, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
II. SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
To recover Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") or Supplemental Security In-come ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the SSA, a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the SSA. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001); Keener v. Astrue, No. 06 C 0928, 2008 WL 687132, at *1 (S.D. Ill. March 10, 2008). A person is disabled if he or she is unable to perform "any substantial gainful activity by reason of any 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 than 12 months." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). In determining whether a claimant suffers from a disability, the Commissioner conducts a standard five-step inquiry:
1. Is the claimant presently unemployed?
2. Does the claimant have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that interferes with basic work-related activities and is expected to last at least 12 months?
3. Does the impairment meet or equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations?
4. Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former occupation?
5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work?
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520, 416.909, 416.920; see Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000). "An affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than Step 3, ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not disabled." Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985). "The burden of proof is on the claimant through step four; only at step five does the burden shift to the Commissioner." Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of the ALJ's final decision is authorized by §405(g) of the SSA. The court affirms the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a con-clusion." Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). "In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clari-ty to permit meaningful appellate review." Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). In reviewing this decision, the Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether Plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social Security Regulations. Young, 362 F.3d at 1001. Nor may it "reweigh evidence, re-solve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner." Id.
Although this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's determination, it "must do more than merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision." Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). The Court must critically review the ALJ's decision to ensure that the ALJ has built an "accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion." Young, 362 F.3d at 1002. The court remands the case "where the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review." Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002). Page | 5
IV. MEDICAL EVIDENCE
Masciola was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2000, at approximately age 40. (R. at 272, 503). He began abusing alcohol at age 16, and cocaine at approxi-mately age 20 or 25. ( Id. at 503, 514). The record reflects a multitude of hospital admissions between 2003 and 2009 for detoxification following drinking binges ( Id. at 636), for hearing voices telling him to overdose on his medications, suicidal thoughts and depression ( Id. at 497-99, 464-468), and for depression ( Id. at 512), prescription drug overdose and relapse with cocaine ( Id. at 412-13); mania and de-pression with suicidal ideation ( Id. at 708-12); and depression and suicidal ideation ( Id. at 721-34).
Masciola also received long-term mental health care from the DuPage County Health Department, including visits with psychiatrists during 2007 and 2008, and prior to and following an admission to Glen Oaks Hospital in November 2007. (R. at 309-323, 342-349, 457-460, 540-559, 563-573, 736-748). Dr. Francisco Cruz, a psy-chiatrist, treated Masciola in March through July 2007, and diagnosed him with bi-polar disorder and polysubstance dependence (some of the time noting the bipolar disorder as "hypermanic, " and sometimes noting the substance abuse was in remis-sion or partial remission). ( Id. at 342-49). Masciola complained of "significant anxie-ty and occasional panic attacks, " feeling "revved up, " "problems with maintaining concentration, " and that he had "trouble slowing down." ( Id. at 343, 349).
In June 2007, Dr. Cruz assessed Masciola's anxiety as "sky high, " and noted Masciola had been worrying a lot and not sleeping well. (R. at 344). Dr. Cruz also noted that Masciola's speech rate was fast, and his agitation level was high, and ad-justed his medications. ( Id. ). In July, Dr. Cruz again noted elevated agitation, a fast speech rate, and that Masciola reported feeling "hyper." ( Id. at 343). Dr. Cruz pre-scribed multiple medications to manage these conditions, including Seroquel and Depakote, adjusting the dosages over time, and adding other medications as needed. ( Id. at 342-49). Dr. Cruz noted that Masciola was living in the DuPage County Pads program ( id. at 349), was maintaining sobriety, and was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings ( id. at 342-45). Masciola was working long days and sleeping very little. ( Id. at 348-49).
On November 21, 2007, Masciola called an ambulance due to feelings of depres-sion, helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. (R. at 429). He was admitted to Glen Oaks Hospital, and Dr. Emad M. Amer assessed that Masciola was positive for anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts), isolation and feeling withdrawn. ( Id. ). He had a flat affect and was very depressed. ( Id. ). The doctor also noted Masciola's recent relapse with cocaine use ( id. at 430) and diag-nosed bipolar disorder with most recent episode of depression, and a GAF of 30 ( id. at 430). Dr. Emad also noted Masciola's history of suicide attempts, and current suicidal thoughts. ( Id. at 435). Evaluating Masciola on November 30, 2007, psychiatrist Dr. Sanjeev Dwivedi wrote that Masciola reported having night sweats and nightmares and being unable to sleep well. (R. at 557-559). Masciola had also reported having racing thoughts. ( Id. ) Since his hospitalization, Masciola had not felt suicidal, but he did still talk to himself and felt paranoid and a lack of trust toward others. ( Id. ). Dr. Dwivedi as-signed Masciola a GAF of 35, and diagnosed bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and anti-social personality disorder. ( Id. at 560). Dr. Dwivedi also assessed emotional lability and mania, and specifically concluded that Masciola could not lo-cate work because of his mania and depression. ( Id. at 458-60).
In Masciola's Annual Adult Clinical Evaluation on June 27, 2008, which Dr. Dwivedi conducted after treating Masciola for almost seven months, Dr. Dwivedi noted that Masciola was distractible and impulsive "persistently, " that he had hal-lucinations "frequently, " and that he had manic thoughts and behavior "frequently." (R. at 581). Dr. Dwivedi assessed Masciola with bipolar disorder with (1) recurrent depression, severe; (2) alcohol dependence; and (3) antisocial personality disorder. He also found Masciola to have a GAF of 35. ( Id. at 586).
Treating Masciola three days later, Dr. Dwivedi noted that Masciola was sad and anxious and reported still experiencing a lot of mood lability, although less ma-nia that week. (R. at 589). Dr. Dwivedi changed Masciola's medications, and made a note to monitor for mania on one of the new medications. ( Id. at 590). In July 2008, Dr. Dwivedi assessed Masciola again with a GAF of 35. ( Id. at 98). In September 2008, Dr. Dwivedi noted that Masciola reported sleeping only a few hours a time due to racing thoughts and pain, and that Masciola had no ...