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Hellwig v. Colvin

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

April 3, 2015

CAROLYN COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


IAIN D. JOHNSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Jeffery G. Hellwig brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking remand of the decision denying him social security disability benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the case is remanded.


On November 1, 2009, plaintiff filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits. R. 55. He stated that he had not been able to work since July 14, 2009 based on (among other things) leg pain from a 1991 accident, depression, and obesity. Dkt. # 12 at p. 1.

On June 29, 2011, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). R. 7. Plaintiff testified that he lived in a house in Freeport, Illinois with his wife and two of his children, who were 16 and 8. R. 12. His wife worked as a registered nurse and had medical insurance that also covered plaintiff. R. 13. Plaintiff drove two or three times a week to do things such as picking up his children or grocery shopping. He completed high school, and was taking auto body repair courses to get certified in this area. He had completed 13 of the 50 credit hours needed. R. 14.

He had last worked as a type of counselor or consumer advocate. He left the job because he started having seizures and would take naps several times a day, sometimes during work. R. 15. The fluorescent lights and computers gave him migraines. He previously worked as a truck driver, messenger, ATM repair man, and security guard. He could not go back to these jobs because he had problems with his legs from an accident and could not walk very far. When the ALJ pointed out that the accident occurred many years ago and that he had worked a number of years after the accident, plaintiff explained that he was able to continue working in his last job as a counselor because his boss helped him out. R. 17. Since he started taking medication for his seizures, he had only had minor seizures triggered by light or stress. R. 18. He had seen a psychiatrist at the Freeport Health Network (FHN) but was no longer seeing her because he could not pay. R. 20. He had been prescribed an anti-depressant medication, although he did not always take it regularly. R. 22. He had pain in his left leg and right knee. He had seen two orthopedists for these problems and had an injection in his left heel. He has prescription medicine for migraines, which he takes on average twice a week. R. 24-26.

Plaintiff testified that he can walk only a couple of city blocks and then he is "done for a couple hours." R. 27. When he goes anywhere "that's [a] long distance, say a zoo or something like that, " he has to take a wheelchair. R. 27-28. He uses a cane at times. He can only stand or sit 15 minutes before having problems. R. 28. His doctor limited him to lifting no more than 15 pounds.

On a typical day, he will feed his 8-year old, do some dishes, mow the yard with a riding lawnmower, talk to neighbors, bring in items from the car if somebody brings something home, and watch a significant amount of television. R. 29. He cooks occasionally, and does cleaning around the house, including vacuuming and dusting. R. 31. He is able to bathe and dress himself. He rides a stationary bike a couple of times a week. As for hobbies, he likes to "tinker around [his] garage" fixing things. R. 32-33.

Plaintiff testified that he had three suicide attempts in the last five years. R. 35. One involved putting a loaded gun in his mouth. R. 35-36, 40. He told two doctors about these attempts, but had never told anybody else including his wife. R. 35. He gets along with some of his siblings but not others. R. 37. He has problems with concentration and memory. He testified that if he is working on a project, such as mowing the lawn, he will often stop in the middle of it and not get back to it until the next day. R. 37. He had speech therapy and special education classes beginning in the 5th grade. R. 41.

On July 25, 2011, the ALJ issued a ruling finding plaintiff not disabled. The ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from several severe impairments, including left hip pain, arthroplasty, history of seizures, headaches, morbid obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and a history of polysubstance dependence in sustained full remission. R. 57.The ALJ found that plaintiff's physical impairments did not meet any listings. R. 58-59. As for his mental impairments, the ALJ considered listings 12.02 and 12.04 and found that plaintiff did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria. Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no more than a mild restriction in his activities of daily living and social functioning and that he had no more than moderate difficulties in his concentration, persistence, or pace. R. 59.

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff had a residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work except that he could lift 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; that he could stand or walk at least six hours in an eight-hour day; that he could sit for six hours in an eight-hour day; that he should avoid climbing, heights and dangerous machinery; that he could perform only simple, unskilled jobs due to problems with concentration; and that he could perform only jobs with routine changes and no high production quotas. R. 59-60.


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 only two arguments in his opening brief. They focus on his alleged mental impairments. Plaintiff has not challenged the ALJ's analysis of his physical impairments. Therefore, this Court ...

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