United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division
SHAWNETTA D. HENDERSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
RICHARD MILLS, U.S. District Judge
an action for judicial review of a final decision of the
Defendant, Commissioner of Social Security, in determining
that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of April 1, 2010,
under the Social Security Act.
are Motions for Summary Judgment filed by both parties.
March 21, 2005, the Defendant found that Plaintiff Shawnetta
Henderson was disabled and had been so since August 1, 2002,
due to metastatic thyroid cancer. On July 27, 2007, it was
determined that her disability continued. In December 2009,
her claim was again reviewed as part of the continuing
disability review process and, on April 23, 2010, the
Defendant determined that Plaintiff was no longer disabled
due to medical improvement. The Plaintiff's initial
appeal was denied and she requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ), which was held by video on
January 10, 2012. The Plaintiff appeared pro se.
Diane Flebbe issued a written decision on April 2, 2012,
affirming the cessation determination. The Plaintiff obtained
counsel and appealed. The Appeals Council declined the
Plaintiff's request for review on May 29, 2013. This
noted that the most recent favorable medical decision finding
that Plaintiff was disabled is the decision dated March 21,
2005. This is known as the “comparison point
decision.” At the time of the comparison point
decision, the Social Security Administration determined that
Plaintiff was disabled due to thyroid cancer.
found that through April 1, 2010, the Plaintiff did not
engage in substantial gainful activity as defined by 20
C.F.R. § 404.1594(f)(1). As of April 1, 2010, the
Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments included
hypothyroid and hypoparathyroid, hypertension, congestive
heart failure, obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, obesity and
diabetes mellitus with blurred vision. Since April 1, 2010,
the Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments which met or medically equaled the severity of an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Para. 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (Listing of Impairments). The ALJ found that medical
improvement as defined by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1)
occurred as of April 1, 2010.
noted that as of April 1, 2010, the Plaintiff's thyroid
cancer had decreased in medical severity to the point the
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a
reduced amount of sedentary work. The Plaintiff's medical
improvement was related to her ability to work because it
resulted in an increase in her residual functional capacity.
As of April 1, 2010, the Plaintiff had severe impairments
that caused more than minimal limitations in her ability to
perform basic work activities. The ALJ found that based on
the impairments present as of April 1, 2010, the Plaintiff
had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work involving only occasional climbing of ramps or stairs;
only occasional postural activities; no climbing of ladders,
ropes or scaffolds; no hazards such as dangerous machinery
and unprotected heights; and no concentrated exposure to
extreme cold, fumes, odors, dust, gases or other
noted that as of April 1, 2010, the Plaintiff was unable to
perform her past relevant work. At the time, the Plaintiff
was a younger individual. The Plaintiff has a high school
education and is able to communicate in English. As of April
1, 2010, considering the Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience and residual functional capacities based on the
impairments present as of April 1, 2010, the Plaintiff was
able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national
found that Plaintiff's disability ended as of April 1,
Plaintiff alleges the ALJ committed error in several
respects. First, the Plaintiff did not knowingly and
intelligently waive her right to counsel. Second, the ALJ did
not adequately develop the record in considering the claim of
an unrepresented individual. Third, the ALJ's residual
functional capacity analysis at Step 8 is flawed.
Standard of review
as here, the Appeals Council denies review, the ALJ's
decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.
See Schaaf v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 869, 874 (7th Cir.
2010). The Act specifies that “the findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence” is
defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Yurt v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 850, 856 (7th Cir. 2014)
(citations omitted). Although the Court's task is not to
re-weigh evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the
ALJ, the ALJ's decision “must provide enough
discussion for [the Court] to afford [the Plaintiff]
meaningful judicial review and assess the validity of the
agency's ultimate conclusion.” Id. at
“continuing disability review” process is one
that periodically evaluates whether a claimant's
impairments still qualify the claimant for benefits.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1589; Johnson v.
Apfel, 191 F.3d 770, 773 (7th Cir. 1999). The eight step
process in determining whether a person, disabled by
administrative determination, has medically improved to the
point of becoming no longer disabled is as follows:
(1) Is the claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity?
If so the claimant is not disabled; if not the inquiry moves
to step 2;
(2) Does the claimant's impairment meet or medically
equal one of Social Security's listed impairments? If so,
the claimant is still disabled; if not the inquiry moves to
(3) Has there been medical improvement? If not, the
disability continues; if so, the inquiry proceeds;
(4) Is the medical improvement related to an ability to work?
If not, the disability continues; if so, the inquiry
(5) Does an exception to medical improvement apply? If so,
the disability ceases; if not, the inquiry proceeds;
(6) Does the claimant still suffer from severe impairments?
If not, the disability has ceased; if so the ...