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Cabaniss v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 30, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARY M. ROWLAND, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Philip Bret Cabaniss filed this action seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423 et seq. 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.


Cabaniss applied for Social Security Disability benefits on October 22, 2010, alleging that he became disabled on February 1, 2010, due to bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, severe back problems, heart problems, and high blood pressure. (R. at 97-101). The application was denied initially on February 23, 2011 ( id. ), and on reconsideration on April 13, 2011 ( id. at 103-06), after which Cabaniss filed a timely request for a hearing ( id. at 107-08). On January 5, 2012, Cabaniss, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). ( Id. at 52-94). Richard J. Hamersma, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert (VE), also testified at the hearing. ( Id. at 88-94).

The ALJ denied Cabaniss's request for benefits on February 16, 2012. (R. at 27-51). Applying the five-step sequential process, the ALJ found at step one that Cabaniss has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2010, the alleged onset date. ( Id. ) At step two, the ALJ found that Cabaniss has the following severe impairments: "degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and degenerative facet arthropathy; affective disorder; obesity; and history of substance abuse, in reported remission." ( Id. ). At step three, the ALJ found that Cabaniss does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. ( Id. at 33).

The ALJ then assessed the Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC)[1] and determined that he has the RFC to perform light work, specifically that he is able to lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, and that he can be on his feet standing and walking for approximately 6 hours, with normal rest periods. (R. at 35). Cabaniss, the ALJ found, "is unable to work at heights or frequently climb ladders, " and "should avoid exposure to fumes, dust, odors, gases, or poorly ventilated areas." ( Id. ). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff "would be unable to understand, remember, and carry out detailed and complex job tasks. He is not suited for work that requires intense focus and concentration for extended periods. He may only have casual interaction with the general public." ( Id. ). Plaintiff would be expected to be off task approximately 5% of the time in an 8-hour workday. ( Id. )

Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work of "inspecting." (R. at 44). Accordingly, the ALJ found Cabaniss was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. ( Id. at 46).

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 14, 2013. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).


To recover Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), a claimant must establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill. 2001).[2] 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). 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; 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.


Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized by § 405(g) of the SSA. In reviewing this decision, the Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it "reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions of credibility, or, in general, substitute [its] own judgment for that of the Commissioner." Id. The Court's task is "limited to determining whether the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citing § 405(g)). Evidence is considered substantial "if a reasonable person would accept it as adequate to support a conclusion." Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004). "Substantial evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a preponderance." Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). "In addition to relying on substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review." Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).

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. Where the Commissioner's decision "lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be remanded." Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002).


A. Mental Health Records

Cabaniss was diagnosed with Major Depression in March 2009. (R. at 426). He reported at the time that people made fun of him at work, and that "sometimes he wants to kill them." ( Id. ). Two weeks later, Cabaniss had thoughts of jumping on the train tracks and of harming his co-workers, and was immediately voluntarily hospitalized at Chicago Read Mental Health Center for more than a month. ( Id. at 427, 469). The Department of Human Services' Discharge Summary diagnosed Mood Disorder, NOS, Personality Disorder, NOS, Substance Abuse by History, Hypertension, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Inactive, Bilateral Hearing Loss, and Latent Tuberculosis. ( Id. at 282). The initial assessment notes indicated a previous psychiatric admission at Madden Mental Health Center due to a suicide attempt, as well as two private and two other state hospitalizations. ( Id. at 299).

Cabaniss was diagnosed with a Bipolar I Disorder by Dr. Subhash Goyal, a psychiatrist, who changed Cabaniss's Depakote prescription to lithium, twice a day. (R. at 476-78, 482). Over the 20 months between May 2009 and December 2010, Cabaniss met with Dr. Goyal, Dr. Raasheen Roberts and Dr. Elizabeth Canelas regularly ( e.g., id. at 481-541), and received medications for his mood disorder, which was characterized as Bipolar I ...

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