United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
SARA DARROW, District Judge.
Plaintiff Denys Rummerfield appeals the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner"), denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. This matter comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 11, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance, ECF No. 14. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance.
Rummerfield filed applications for DIB and SSI on August 27, 2009, alleging that she became disabled as of March 1, 2005. R. 19. Both applications were denied on November 10, 2006. Id. Rummerfield requested reconsideration; her claims were denied a second time on July 20, 2010. Id. She requested a hearing, which was held via video conference on August 30, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Shreese M. Wilson. Id. Rummerfield testified at the hearing, as did her sister, Deanne Jones, and a vocational expert, Ronald Malik. R. 44-78.
ALJ Wilson found that Rummerfield had five severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), a cerebral aneurysm with headaches, obesity, and an affective mood disorder. R. 22. The ALJ found that these impairments or combination thereof did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926) ("Listing of Impairments"). Id. ALJ Wilson also found that Rummerfield retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "light work" as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), with the following additional limitations:
[Rummerfield must] never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, she can occasionally crawl or climb ramps or stairs, she must avoid concentrated exposure to irritants such as dusts, fumes, odors, gases and poor ventilation, and she can perform no more than simple, routine, repetitive-type tasks in an environment free of fast-paced production requirements with no more than occasional contact with the general public, co-workers or supervisors.
R. 23. Based Malik's testimony, ALJ Wilson found that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Rummerfield could perform, such as marker and assembly press operator. R. 28. As a result of this analysis, the ALJ found that Rummerfield was not disabled from March 1, 2005, through the date of her decision, September 19, 2011. Id. On December 14, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Rummerfield's request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. R. 1. Rummerfield filed the instant action on February 14, 2013, requesting the Court's review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
I. District Court Review of the ALJ Decision
A court's function on review is not to try the case de novo or to supplant the ALJ's findings with the court's own assessment of the evidence. See Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Pugh v. Bowen, 870 F.2d 1271, 1274 (7th Cir. 1989). Instead, the court's role is to determine whether the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. See Cannon v. Apfel, 213 F.3d 970, 975 (7th Cir. 2000). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the court reviews the record as a whole but does not reconsider facts, reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See id. (citing Williams v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 1066, 1072 (7th Cir. 1999)). Substantial evidence is defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Henderson v. Apfel, 179 F.3d 507, 512 (7th Cir. 1999). Even if reasonable minds could differ concerning a disability determination, the ALJ's decision must be affirmed if it is adequately supported. See Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Indeed, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Powers v. Apfel, 207 F.3d 431, 434 (7th Cir. 2000).
Although great deference is afforded to the determination made by the ALJ, the court does not "merely rubber stamp the ALJ's decision." Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). Rather, the ALJ's decision must "sufficiently articulate their assessment of the evidence to assure us that they considered the important evidence and to enable us to trace the path of their reasoning." Id. at 595 (quoting Hickman v. Apfel, 187 F.3d 683, 689 (7th Cir. 1999)). The ALJ has a duty to "minimally articulate his or her justification for rejecting or accepting specific evidence of disability." Scheck v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 697, 700 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Steward v. Bowen, 858 F.2d 1295, 1299 (7th Cir. 1988)).
Further, the ALJ's decision must build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the ultimate conclusions. Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010); Scott, 297 F.3d at 595. "Although the ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence in the record, he must confront the evidence that does not support his conclusion and explain why it was rejected." Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 474 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Kararsky v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 539, 543 (7th Cir. 2002)). If there is an error of law, "reversal is, of course, warranted irrespective of the volume of evidence supporting the factual findings." Schmoll v. Harris, 636 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1980).
II. Entitlement to Benefits
In order to be entitled to DIB and SSI, a claimant must show that his inability to work is medical in nature and that he is totally disabled. Economic conditions, personal factors, financial considerations, and attitudes of employers are irrelevant in determining whether a claimant is eligible for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566, 416.966. The establishment of disability under the Social Security Act is a two-step process.
First, the claimant must be suffering from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, or combination of impairments, 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. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Second, there must be a factual determination that the impairment renders the claimant unable to engage in any substantial gainful employment. See McNeil v. Califano, 614 F.2d ...