United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge.
This matter is before the court on Plaintiff Steven Looze's (Looze) motion for summary judgment and Defendant Social Security Administration's (SSA) motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, SSA's motion is denied, Looze's motion is granted in part, and this matter is remanded to SSA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
In 2011, Looze applied for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance, and such requests were denied. On December 21, 2012, after a hearing (Hearing) before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), a decision was entered against Looze. On February 25, 2014, the Appeals Council denied a request for review, and on April 14, 2014, Looze filed the instant appeal. Looze has filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking to have the ALJ's decision reversed and remanded for an award of benefits, and seeking in the alternative to have this case remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings to correct errors made by the ALJ. SSA has filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to have the ALJ's decision affirmed.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), a party can seek judicial review of administrative decisions made under the Social Security Act. When an ALJ's decision is deemed to be "the final action of the Social Security Administration, the reviewing district court examines the ALJ's decision to determine whether substantial evidence supports it and whether the ALJ applied the proper legal criteria." Allord v. Astrue, 631 F.3d 411, 415 (7th Cir. 2011).
An ALJ examines a claim of disability under a five-step process. Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673-74 (7th Cir. 2008). In step one, the ALJ "considers whether the applicant is engaging in substantial gainful activity." Id. In step two, the ALJ "evaluates whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe, medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement." Id. In step three, the ALJ "compares the impairment to a list of impairments that are considered conclusively disabling." Id. If the applicant's impairment satisfies "or equals one of the listed impairments, then the applicant is considered disabled" and the inquiry ends. Id. If the inquiry continues, in step four, the ALJ "assesses an applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and ability to engage in past relevant work." Id. In step five, the ALJ "assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as her age, education, and work experience to determine whether the applicant can engage in other work, " and "[i]f the applicant can engage in other work, he is not disabled." Id.
In the instant appeal, Looze argues: (1) that the ALJ erred in assessing Looze's credibility, (2) that the ALJ failed to give proper weight to the opinion of the treating physician, (3) that the ALJ improperly determined that Looze did not suffer from severe anxiety and depression, (4) that the ALJ erred in finding that Looze did not experience severe impairments before the expiration of his disability insured status, and (5) that the ALJ failed to consider all of the medical evidence in the record.
I. Credibility Determinations
Looze contends that the ALJ erred in evaluating the credibility of Looze as to his impairments and pain. Credibility assessments made by an ALJ are given "special, but not unlimited, deference." Shauger v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 696 (7th Cir. 2012)(stating that "[t]he ALJ must consider a number of factors imposed by regulation, ... and must support credibility findings with evidence in the record"); see also Pierce v. Colvin, 739 F.3d 1046, 1050 (7th Cir. 2014)(stating that "[a]n ALJ may not discount a claimant's credibility just because her claims of pain are unsupported by significant physical and diagnostic examination results"). The ALJ concluded that Looze's allegations of symptoms and pain were "less than fully credible."
Looze argues that the ALJ gave improper weight to the fact that he has not been prescribed narcotics "for back pain or arthralgias." (AR 23). The ALJ, however, failed to explain why the absence of narcotics in Looze's list of medication and other daily treatments contradicted Looze's claims of severe pain and diagnosis of severe arthritis and cervical stenosis. The ALJ thus failed to adequately connect the evidence in the record to her conclusion. See Murphy v. Colvin, 759 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2014)(stating that "[i]n reaching its decision, the ALJ must build a logical bridge from the evidence ...