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Kerlin v. Colvin

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

January 5, 2015

TINA KERLIN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JEFFREY COLE, Magistrate Judge.

Tina Kerlin, seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner ("Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration ("Agency") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2).[1] Ms. Kerlin asks the court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision, while the Commissioner seeks an order affirming the decision.



Ms. Kerlin applied for DIB and Supplemental Security Income in June or 2009 (Administrative Record ("R."), at 138-44). She claimed she had been disabled January 1, 2009, due to numbness in her feet, pinched nerve in her back, and arthritis in her hands. (R. 159). A few months later, she added: anxiety, panic attacks, fear of people, and diabetes. (R. 167). Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 70-73, 76-80, 83-90). Ms. Kerlin then filed a timely request for a hearing before an administrative law judge. (R. 93-95).

An ALJ convened a hearing on February 17, 2011. (R. 38-69). Ms. Kerlin, represented by counsel, appeared and testified, and Cheryl Hoiseth testified as vocational expert. On March 9, 2011, the ALJ denied Ms. Kerlin's application for benefits because he determined she retained the capacity to lift and/or carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday with normal breaks; sit about 6 hours of an eight-hour workday with normal breaks; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. She could not work at heights, climb ladders, or frequently negotiate stairs, and must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, odors, gases, dust, poorly ventilated areas; moving or dangerous machinery. She was unable to understand, remember, or carry out detailed and complex instructions; was not suited for work that required intense focus and concentration for extended periods of time; could not tolerate more than occasional public with the general public. She would also have some difficulty accepting instructions and responding appropriately to criticism from supervisors. (R. 30). The ALJ concluded that this limited capacity nevertheless allowed Ms. Kerlin to perform her past work as a housekeeper, meaning she was not disabled under the Act. (R. 32). This became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Ms. Mason's request for review of the decision on July 18, 2013. (R. 1-6). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.955; 404.981. Ms. Kerlin has appealed that decision to the federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).



The applicable standard of review of the Commissioner's decision is a familiar one. The court must affirm the decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion. Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008), citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). The court may not reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the ALJ. Terry v. Astrue, 580 F.3d 471, 475 (7th Cir. 2009); Berger, 516 F.3d at 544. Where conflicting evidence would allow reasonable minds to differ as to whether the claimant is disabled, it is the ALJ's responsibility to resolve those conflicts. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, (7th Cir. 2008); Binion v. Chater, 108 F.3d 780, 782 (7th Cir. 1997). Conclusions of law are not entitled to such deference, however, so where the Commissioner commits an error of law, the court must reverse the decision regardless of the volume of evidence supporting the factual findings. Schmidt v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 833, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). While the standard of review is deferential, the court cannot act as a mere "rubber stamp" for the Commissioner's decision. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002). An ALJ is required to "minimally articulate" the reasons for his decision. Berger, 516 F.3d at 544; Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001). Although the ALJ need not provide a written evaluation of every piece of evidence and testimony, Pepper v. Colvin 712 F.3d 351, 362 (7th Cir.2013); Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176, she cannot limit his discussion to only that evidence that supports his ultimate conclusion. Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994). The ALJ's decision must allow the court to assess the validity of his findings and afford the claimant a meaningful judicial review. Hopgood ex rel. L.G. v. Astrue, 578 F.3d 696, 698 (7th Cir. 2009). That is, the ALJ must "provide some glimpse into her reasoning." Dixon, 270 F.3d at 1176. The Seventh Circuit calls this building a "logical bridge" between the evidence and the ALJ's conclusion. Id.; Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 307 (7th Cir. 1996).


Ms. Kerlin was born on March 27, 1967, making her nearly 44 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 155). She is 5'2" and weighs 185 pounds. (R. 158). She has an eighth-grade education. (R. 164). From 1990 to 2004, she worked as a cashier at a grocery store. For another five years after that until 2009, she was self-employed, working cleaning houses. (R. 160). The cashier job required her to lift up to 20 pounds and stand nearly the whole day. (R. 160). Her housekeeping work was more physically demanding. She was on her feet all day and had to lift as much as 50 pounds. (R. 179).

The ALJ found that Ms. Kerlin suffered from a number of severe impairments. She had type II diabetes mellitus. (R. 20). The medical record indicates that she struggled somewhat keeping this under control. (R. 346, 375, 552). She also had asthma, degenerative arthritis in her right knee - along with mild narrowing of the medial compartment, a back disorder with narrowing at L4-5 and degenerative changes in the lumbar and thoracic spine, obesity, an anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, panic disorder, and poly-substance abuse. (R. 20). Ms. Kerlin tried to keep this constellation of complaints in check with a veritable pharmacy of prescribed medications, including: Actos, Glipizide, Novalog (diabetes), Advair, Fluticasone, Singulair (asthma), Alprazolam (anxiety), Budeprion, Fluoxitine (depression), Crestor (high cholesterol), and Hydrocodone (pain). (R. 163-64, 169-70).



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