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Fox v. Colvin

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Urbana Division

January 7, 2015

Shawn Renee Fox, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

DAVID G. BERNTHAL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Shawn Renee Fox seeks review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the Social Security Administration's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#13) be GRANTED, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#16) be DENIED, and that this case be remanded under Sentence Four of § 405(g) for further proceedings.

I. Background

On March 17, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2010. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On July 12, 2012, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), during which the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert.

On August 3, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (R. 12-23.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of status post left rib injury; status post rib resection; and obesity. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the listings and that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to:

"perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that she can only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, can only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; can have no exposure to vibrations; can have frequent exposure to hazards such as moving machinery or unprotected heights; and can perform unskilled work tasks that can be learned by demonstration or in 30 days or less."

(R. 18.) The ALJ reasoned that Plaintiff could not return to her past relevant work as a shipping/receiving supervisor, a retail manager, or a nursing assistant; but found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the regional and national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (R. 22-23.) Therefore, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. The ALJ's ruling became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied review.

Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred when (1) assessing Plaintiff's RFC; (2) failing to consider the aggregate effect of Plaintiff's impairments; and (3) finding Plaintiff's testimony lacked credibility.

II. Standard of Review

In reviewing an ALJ's decision, this Court does not try the case de novo or replace the ALJ's findings with the Court's own assessment of the evidence. Pugh v. Bowen, 870 F.2d 1271, 1274 (7th Cir. 1989). Instead, the Court must affirm the decision to deny benefits if the ALJ correctly applied the law and supported the decision with substantial evidence. Jelinek v. Astrue, 662 F.3d 805, 811 (7th Cir. 2011). The Supreme Court has defined substantial evidence as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Stated differently, if reasonable minds could differ as to whether Plaintiff is disabled, the Court must uphold the ALJ's decision to deny benefits. Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 1996). Importantly, in order for the Court to evaluate the ALJ's analysis, the ALJ must build a "logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion." See Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

A. The ALJ's RFC Determination

Plaintiff first contends that the ALJ failed to explain how the evidence supported her assessment of Plaintiff's RFC. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not explain how she determined that work at the light exertional level was appropriate or how she determined the limitations she applied to Plaintiff's RFC.

Plaintiff's original injury involved her left ribs, and she had two ribs removed in September 2011. Plaintiff acknowledged that the surgery eliminated the rib pain, but she claims that she ...


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