United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge
Gail March ("Claimant") seeks review of the final
decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner
of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), denying
Claimant's applications for a period of disability and
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title
II of the Social Security Act ("the Act") and for
Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1, the
parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States
Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of
final judgment. [ECF No. 4.] Claimant has moved for summary
judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. [ECF
No. 10.] The Commissioner has done likewise. [ECF No. 14.]
For the reasons stated below, Claimant's motion for
summary judgment is granted, and the Commissioner's
motion for summary judgment is denied, The decision of the
Commissioner is reversed, and the case is remanded to the
Social Security Administration ("the SSA") for
further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion
28, 2012, Claimant filed applications for a period of
disability, DIB, and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of
May 1, 2012. (R. 235-247.) The claims were denied initially
in January, 2013, and upon reconsideration on May 17, 2013.
(R. 176, 181-188.) On June 12, 2013, Claimant requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the
ALJ"). (R. 190-192.) The requested hearing was then held
on January 14, 2014. (R. 56-114.) At that hearing, Claimant,
who was represented by a non-attorney representative,
appeared and testified. Id. Claimant's mother
also appeared and testified, as did a vocational expert
("the VE") and Dr. Ellen Rozenfeld. Id.
February 28, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision. (R.
26-50.) In the decision, the ALJ went through the five-step
sequential evaluation process. At step one, the ALJ found
Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
("SGA") since his alleged onset date. (R. 28.) At
step two, the ALJ found Claimant had the severe impairments
of affective disorder, residuals of a cerebrovascular
accident, seizures, status post-skull/head trauma, anxiety,
history of speech impairment, and status post left humeral
fracture. (R. 29.) At step three, the ALJ found Claimant did
not have an impairment or a 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.
step four, the ALJ concluded that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to do light work. (R.
30.) The ALJ found that Clamant could (1) understand,
remember, and carry out short, simple instructions and tasks,
(2) make simple work related decisions, (3) use judgment, (4)
perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable length
or total number of rest breaks; (5) interact appropriately
with supervisors to accept instructions or respond to
criticism, (6) get along with coworkers/peers without being a
distraction; (7) respond appropriately to occasional and
routine changes in the work setting; and (8) travel
independently and use public transportation. (R. 31.) The ALJ
also determined that Claimant could frequently climb stairs
and ramps. (R. 30.) The ALJ found that Claimant should never:
(1) climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; (2) engage in
commercial driving; (3) be exposed to unprotected heights,
dangerous moving machinery, and open dangerous conditions;
and (4) perform face-paced assembly line type work. (R.
30-31). The ALJ further limited Claimant to jobs that involve
only: occasional contact on a short, superficial basis with
the public; short, brief contact with workers; and no joint
projects/tasks with coworkers. (R. 31.) Based on this RFC,
the ALJ determined at step four that Claimant could not
perform any past relevant work. (R. 47.) Finally, at step
five, the ALJ found Claimant to be disabled as of February
14, 2014 through the date of his decision. (R. 49.) The ALJ,
however, also found Claimant not disabled prior to that date.
Id. Specifically, the ALJ found that, prior to
February 14, 2014, Claimant could have worked as a hand
packer, sorter, or assembler. (R. 48-49.)
sought review of the ALJ's decision. See R. 3-5.
On September 19, 2014, the Social Security Appeals Council
denied the request. Id. That denial made the
ALJ's opinion the final decision of the Commissioner.
Id. See also Nelms, 553 F.3d at 1097. Claimant now
seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626
(7th Cir. 2005).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final
decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review.
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). A
claimant then may seek review of this final decision in the
district court. Id. Judicial review is limited to
determining whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether
the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in reaching his
decision. Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th
Cir. 2009). The reviewing court may enter a 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).
evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A
"mere scintilla" of evidence is not enough.
Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir.
2002). Even when there is adequate evidence in the record to
support the decision, however, the district court will not
uphold the ALJ's findings if the ALJ did not "build
an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the
conclusion." Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539,
544 (7th Cir. 2008). In other words, 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). Though the substantial evidence standard is
deferential, a reviewing court must "conduct a critical
review of the evidence" before affirming the
Commissioner's decision. Eichstadl v. Astrue,
534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). The court may not,
however, "displace the ALJ's judgment by
reconsidering facts or evidence . . . ." Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).
argues that the ALJ failed to adequately develop the record
and improperly weighed the various medical opinions in the
record. The Court finds that the ALJ committed the first
error. Because this error requires remand and will
necessitate that the ALJ reweigh the medical opinions after
developing a Ml and lair record, the Court will not address
whether the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical opinions in
ALJ Failed To Adequately Develop The Record.
has a duty to develop a full and fair record. Nelms,
553 F.3d at 1098. At a minimum, this obligation demands that
an ALJ ensure the record has "enough information to
assess the claimant's RFC and to make a disability
determination." Martin v. Astrue, 345
F.App'x 197, 201 (7th Cir. 2009). Where a claimant does
not have counsel, however, this duty is "enhanced."
Nelms, 553 F.3d at 1098. In such a case, "the
ALJ must 'scrupulously and conscientiously [ ] probe
into, inquire of, and explore for all the relevant
facts."' Id. (quoting Thompson v.
Sullivan,933 F.2d 581, 585-86 (7th Cir. 1991)).
Therefore, while a pro se litigant "must
furnish some medical evidence to support [her] claim, the ALJ
is required to supplement the record, as necessary, by asking
detailed questions, ordering additional examinations, and
contacting treating physicians and medical sources to request