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Arana v. Colvin

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

July 24, 2015

Richard Arana, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

IAIN D. JOHNSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Richard Arana, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal or remand of the decision denying him social security disability benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

On November 5, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income, alleging a disability beginning on November 1, 2010. R. 137-148. He was 46 years old at the time of the alleged onset date and last worked in 2002. R. 137, 142. On April 2, 2012, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing to review the Social Security Administration's denial of Plaintiff's request for benefits. R. 24-58. The same attorney representing Plaintiff in this action also represented him at the hearing. Plaintiff and Vocational Expert Stephen Porter ("VE") testified at the hearing.

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was single and lived in public housing by himself. R. 28-30, 41-42. He had a driver's license, but did not have a vehicle. R. 31. His mother took him to his appointments and shopping. R. 43. He completed two years of college courses. R. 31. Plaintiff was an air traffic controller in the army from 1982 until 1985. R. 32. Plaintiff has not worked since 2002. R. 32. He stopped working because he was rear-ended in a car accident in 2002. R. 33, 48. After the car accident, Plaintiff started having neck problems. R. 48. Plaintiff was unable to return to work because he had trouble sleeping. R. 37. Plaintiff explained that there were days when he could not get out of bed due to head and neck pain from canal stenosis, and he also stated that he did not like being around people. R. 37. He testified that he had an anger problem and would sometimes get angry at people in public. R. 45. He also stated that he would put a bucket near his bed so he would not have to get up to go to the bathroom. R. 37. Plaintiff would sometimes go days without sleeping. R. 43-44. A week or two before the hearing, Plaintiff did not sleep for three days. R. 44.

Plaintiff was able to cook and do dishes, but would often take breaks due to pain or his attention span. R. 39, 45. He had a problem concentrating because he would lose interest. R. 46. Plaintiff's mother did his grocery shopping for him because he could not carry groceries. R. 40. Plaintiff could lift a gallon of milk, but could not carry it. R. 44. Plaintiff testified that he tried to walk 20 minutes around his block every day. R. 40-41. Plaintiff testified that he met with a counselor through the Veterans Administration once a month. R. 42. He was recently put on Zoloft, but it was too early to tell if it was helping. R. 42. Plaintiff testified that in March 2012, he was unable to get out of bed six days due to depression or pain. R. 43. Plaintiff testified that his work history consisted of maintenance work on industrial machines from 2000 until 2002, installation worker from 1998 until 2000 and a factory worker from 1996 until 1998. R. 33-35.

The VE testified that Plaintiff's past relevant work consisted of work as a material handler and an industrial cleaner. R. 50-51. In response to the ALJ's hypothetical claimant who could only perform light work with occasional stooping and crouching and occasional interaction with the public and coworkers, the VE opined that the claimant could not perform any of Plaintiff's past-relevant work, but could still perform the jobs of final assembler, automatic machine operator and overnight stocker. R. 54. This was not true if the claimant could only perform occasional rotation, flexion or extension of the neck. R. 55. In response to questions by Plaintiff's counsel, the VE testified that if an individual were to miss two days of work a month, he could probably maintain employment. R. 58. However, there would be no work for an individual who missed three days of work a month. R. 58.

On April 26, 2012, the ALJ issued his ruling finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. R. 11-19. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, depression and antisocial personality disorder. R. 13. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal a listing impairment, specifically Listings 1.04, 12.04 and 12.08. R. 13-15. With regard to Plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not satisfy the paragraph B criteria or paragraph C criteria. R. 13. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with the following limitations: occasional stooping and crouching and occasional interaction with coworkers and the public. R. 15. Based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work, but had the RFC to perform the job of final assembler, automatic machine operator and overnight stocker. R. 18-19.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

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). "In the Seventh Circuit, an ALJ's decision can be supported by substantial evidence 0336 or even a preponderance of the evidence... 0336 but still will be overturned if the ALJ fails to build a logical bridge' from the evidence to her conclusion." Mason v. Colvin, No. 13 C 2993, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152938, at *19 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 29, 2014) (citing Sarchet v. Chater, 78 F.3d 305, 307 (7th Cir. 1996).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed or remanded because the ALJ failed to sufficiently explain why Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for: (1) disorders of the spine under Listing 1.04(A); and (2) affective disorders under Listing 12.04.

Before addressing the merits of this appeal, the Court must first address the Commissioner's argument regarding waiver. See Dkt. 23 at 1 n.1. The Commissioner takes issue with the fact that Plaintiff only cited to 13 pages from the record to support his arguments in his opening brief, and therefore, argues Plaintiff has forfeited the right to cite to additional support in his reply brief. The Commissioner is correct that perfunctory and underdeveloped arguments are forfeited on appeal. See Puffer v. Allstate Ins. Co., 675 F.3d 709, 719 (7th Cir. 2012).

The Court notes that Plaintiff's opening and rely briefs are drastically different. In his opening brief, Plaintiff merely outlined several underdeveloped arguments and provided minimal citations to the record and zero analysis of those records. In light of this, the Court came close to finding Plaintiff's arguments forfeited. However, in the interest of justice and because forfeiture would not affect the outcome of this appeal, the Court will consider Plaintiff's ...


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