United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
JENNIFER R. FARRAH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
IAIN D. JOHNSTON, Magistrate Judge.
Jennifer R. Farrah ("plaintiff") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking remand of the decision denying her social security disability benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision is affirmed.
On September 16, 2009, plaintiff filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. R. 14. She stated that she had been unable to work since January 30, 2009 based on (among other things) her obesity, a right ankle fracture, mild degenerative disc disease, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
On July 7, 2011, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). R. 36. Plaintiff testified that she was 33 years old, graduated from high school, had just under a year of college education, had a ten-year old daughter, lived with her parents, was taking various medications, and weighed 303 pounds. R. 40-41. She had been seeing a therapist at Janet Wattles Center on a monthly basis over the last year, and every three months checked in with a psychiatrist there, Dr. Jafry, who monitored her medications. R. 42-43. These medications included Abilify, Lorazepam, Trazdone, Wellbutrin, and Trileptal. R. 54-55. When asked how often she took the medications, plaintiff testified: "I don't need them daily, more just when  things are getting too heavy for me, [a] little bit stressful." R. 55.
Plaintiff testified that she had worked at a Payless shoe store part-time for a few months, at a Potbelly Sandwich Shop working about 30 hours a week for ten months, at Northern Illinois Blood Bank full-time for at least five months as a technician, and as telemarketer doing cold calling. R. 44-46. She explained that these jobs did not last because she became nervous and paranoid around people and could not handle the stress and would start crying. R. 48.
On August 24, 2011, the ALJ issued a 16-page ruling finding plaintiff not disabled. The ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from several severe impairments, including morbid obesity, right ankle fracture, mild degenerative disc disease, bipolar disorder, and a borderline personality disorder. R. 17. The ALJ rejected plaintiff's claim that her fibromyalgia, right elbow pain, multiple personality disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder qualified as severe impairments. R. 17-18. The ALJ found that plaintiff's polysubstance abuse had been in remission because, according to her testimony, she stopped smoking cannabis in April 2010, stopped using crack cocaine in 2008, and consumed no alcohol in the months leading up to the hearing. R. 18.
In considering whether plaintiff's mental impairments met any of the Section 12 listings-specifically 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08-the ALJ analyzed the paragraph B criteria. The ALJ found that plaintiff had no more than a mild restriction in her activities of daily living and that she had no more than moderate difficulties in social functioning and in her concentration, persistence, or pace. R. 18-19.
The ALJ concluded that plaintiff had a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work except that she could perform no more than unskilled and routine work; her work must stay the same from day-to-day; she could have no frequent interaction with others; and she could not perform work requiring team coordination or public contact. R. 20.
A reviewing court may enter judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive. Id. Substantial evidence exists if there is enough evidence that would allow a reasonable mind to determine that the decision's conclusion is supportable. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 399-401 (1971). Accordingly, the reviewing court cannot displace the decision by reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent credibility determinations. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). However, the Seventh Circuit has emphasized that review is not merely a rubber stamp. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (a "mere scintilla" is not substantial evidence). If the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion, then the court must remand the matter. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009). Moreover, a reviewing court must conduct a critical review of the evidence before affirming the Commissioner's decision. Eichstadt v. Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). Indeed, even when adequate record evidence exists to support the Commissioner's decision, the decision will not be affirmed if the Commissioner does not build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion. Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008).
Plaintiff raises four arguments, which are analyzed individually below. These arguments focus on her alleged mental impairments. She has not challenged the ALJ's analysis of her physical impairments.
I. Whether A Medical Expert Should Have Been Called.
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ should have called a medical expert at the administrative hearing to assess plaintiff's RFC. Plaintiff argues generally that the ALJ "invaded the medical ...