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Tooley v. Colvin

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

July 20, 2015

TRACEY M. TOOLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN[1] ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JEFFREY T. GILBERT MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Claimant Tracey M. Tooley ("Claimant") brings this action under 42 U.S.C.§ 405(g) seeking reversal or remand of the decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI 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. 15.

This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 26, 33. For the reasons discussed herein, the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 33) is denied. Claimant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 26) is granted, and this matter is remanded to the Social Security Administration ("SSA") for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Claimant first filed an application for disability insurance benefits on December 5, 2008, alleging a disability onset date beginning September 29, 2007. R. 125. The SSA initially denied the application on July 30, 2009, and upon reconsideration on December 23, 2009. Id. Claimant then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which was held on July 10, 2010. Id. On September 23, 2010, the AU issued a written decision, finding Claimant not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 122-142. Claimant appealed the ALJ's decision to the District Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Magistrate Judge Cox affirmed the ALJ's decision and declined to remand the case to the SSA. Tooley v. Astrue, 2013 WL 2449912 (N.D. 111. Jun. 4, 2013).

While Claimant's disability application was pending at the District Court, Claimant filed a new application for disability insurance benefits on March 7, 2011, as well as an application for supplemental security income on April 7, 2011. R. 16. In both applications, Claimant alleged a disability onset date beginning December 5, 2008. Id. The SSA initially denied the applications on July 1, 2011, and upon reconsideration on October 14, 2011. Id. Claimant filed a timely request for a hearing on November 30, 2011, which was held before an ALT on June 7, 2012. Id. Claimant personally appeared and testified at the hearing, and she was represented by counsel. Id. A medical expert and a vocational expert also appeared and testified at the hearing. Id. Prior to any testunony. Claimant requested to amend her alleged onset date to September 24, 2010 -the day after the first AU issued an unfavorable decision in Claimant's original application for disability benefits - "for the purposes of not encroaching on" that decision. Id. at 48. The AU accepted Claimant's new alleged onset date. Id. at 16.

The ALT issued a written decision on November 9, 2012, finding Claimant not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 13-38. At step one of the required five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALT found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended onset date of September 24, 2010. Id. at 18. At step two, the ALT found that Claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative changes to her right shoulder, bilateral knee pain, obesity, affective disorder, personality disorder, and history of alcohol abuse. Id. At step three, the ALT determined that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R, §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). Id. at 19.

Prior to reaching step four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALT determined that Claimant had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with additional Ihnitations including, among other things, that Claimant could stand and/or walk for about six hours in an eight-hour workday. Id. at 24-25. At step four, the AU found that Claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work. Id. at 29. At step five, the AU found that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Claimant could perform, and therefore found that Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id., at 30.

The Social Security Appeals Council denied Claimant's request for review on March 13, 2013, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 1-5. Claimant seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). SeeHaynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and whether the AU applied the correct legal standards. Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). When an ALT recommends a denial of benefits, he or she must "build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion." Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 872 (7th Cir. 2000)). In other words, while the ALJ is not required to address "every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, " the analysis "must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind [the] decision to deny benefits." Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881. 889 (7th Cir. 2001). At a minimum, the AU must articulate his analysis "with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review." Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). If the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009).

III. ANALYSIS

Claimant presents a number of arguments in support of reversal or remand, most of which the Court finds unpersuasive. However, the Court agrees with Claimant that there is an internal inconsistency in the ALJ's RFC determination. In light of that error, the Court has no choice but to remand the case to the SSA for further explanation.

1. The ALJ did not build a logical bridge from the evidence to her conclusion in determining ...


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