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Fowler v. Colvin

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

February 18, 2015

STEVEN A. FOWLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JEFFREY T. GILBERT, Magistrate Judge.

This is an appeal of the denial of a claim for disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Steven Fowler ("Claimant") seeks reversal or remand of the decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance under sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1 for all proceedings, including entry of final judgment. ECF No. 7.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, Claimant's motion (ECF No. 15) is granted, and the Commissioner's motion (ECF No. 24) is denied. This case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Claimant filed an application for disability benefits on April 30, 2007 (R. 188), alleging a disability beginning February 12, 2007 (R. 223). Claimant suffers from major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. R. 20. His application for disability benefits was denied initially on July 13, 2007 (R. 102) and again after reconsideration on September 27, 2007 (R. 107). Claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on November 26, 2007. R. 110. Claimant appeared and testified at a hearing before ALJ John Mondi on April 6, 2009, and he was represented by an attorney. R. 64. Neither a medical expert nor a vocational expert testified at the hearing.

On September 1, 2009, the ALJ denied Claimant's application for disability benefits and found him not disabled under the Social Security Act. R. 90-97. On September 15, 2010, the Appeals Council remanded Claimant's case back to the ALJ because Claimant's established residual functional capacity ("RFC") was inconsistent with the ALJ's Step 4 finding. R. 100. The Appeals Council instructed the ALJ that a vocational expert should testify on remand as to whether there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that the Claimant can perform. R. 100. The supplemental hearing was held on July 13, 2011. R. 37. The Claimant was represented by an attorney, and a medical expert and vocational expert testified. Id.

On August 23, 2011, the ALJ again denied Claimant's claim. R. 15. At step one, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 12, 2007, the alleged onset date. R. 20. At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the severe impairments of major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. R. 20. At step three, however, the ALJ found that none of Claimant's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments described by Appendix 1 of the regulations. R. 21-22.

At step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to work at all exertional levels but was limited to unskilled work requiring no more than simple one- and two-step tasks at a consistent pace. R. 22. At step five, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was unable to perform any of his past relevant work but found that there were jobs in the national economy that he could perform. R. 27. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act. R. 28.

Claimant appealed the ALJ's second decision to the Appeals Council on August 23, 2011. R. 1. The Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review on February 26, 2013, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1.

II. ANALYSIS

Claimant argues that this matter should be reversed or remanded because (1) the ALJ improperly discounted Claimant's treating physician's opinion; (2) the ALJ erroneously stated that the regulations did not permit an assignment of weight to the evidence of the Claimant's therapist; (3) the ALJ placed great weight on the Claimant's Activities of Daily Living ("ADLs") without explaining how these activities were inconsistent with the medical evidence; and (4) the ALJ failed to comply with the Appeals Council remand. After reviewing the parties' briefs and the administrative record, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not sufficiently explain how he weighed the medical evidence supplied by Claimant's treating physician. Therefore, remand is appropriate.

A. The ALJ did not sufficiently explain how he weighed the medical evidence supplied by Claimant's treating physician.

Claimant argues that the ALJ erred in assigning reduced weight to the opinion of Claimant's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Kurilo. Specifically, Claimant contends that the ALJ discounted the treating physician's opinion without sufficient explanation. For the reasons discussed below, this Court agrees.

An ALJ is not required to address "every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, [but] the ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [his] decision to deny benefits." Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). When an ALJ denies benefits to a claimant, "he must build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion." Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000). "The ALJ is required to articulate, at some minimum level, [his] analysis of the evidence." Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Dixon v. Massanari, 270 F.3d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted)); see also Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, ...


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