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Bonato v. Colvin

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

August 4, 2016

KEVIN J. BONATO, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Kevin Bonato’s (“Plaintiff”) claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 10] is granted, the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 18] is denied, and the matter is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.



         Plaintiff filed a DIB application on November 29, 2010 alleging an onset date of May 4, 2009 due to spinal stenosis, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), depression, and nerve damage. (R. 58, 210-21.) The application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (R. 58-59.) After both denials, Plaintiff filed a hearing request on August 12, 2011 pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.929 et seq. that was scheduled on August 8, 2012 before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 40-56, 76-77.) Plaintiff appeared for his hearing along with his representative. (40-56.) A Vocational Expert (“VE”) was also present to offer testimony. (Id.) On September 4, 2012, the ALJ issued a written determination finding Plaintiff not disabled and denying his DIB application. (R. 17-32.) The Appeals Council denied further review on January 17, 2014. (R. 1-2.)


         On September 4, 2012, the ALJ issued a written opinion denying Plaintiff’s DIB application. (R. 17-32.) As an initial matter, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirement of the Act through March 31, 2011. (R. 23.) At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”) since his alleged onset date of May 4, 2009. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of status post cervical fusion, history of hypoxic ischemia encephalopathy, bilateral and brachial plexopathy with possible media neuropathy at the wrist, depression, and a generalized anxiety disorder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of the listed impairments as found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App’x 1, particularly for listing 12.04 and 12.06 for his mental impairments. (R. 23-25.) Before step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work limited to simple, repetitive, and routine jobs that do not require more than frequent balancing, stooping, crouching, kneeling, crawling, or climbing of ramps and stairs, and no more than occasional handling, fingering, and climbing of ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. (R. 25.) At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not capable of performing any of his past relevant work. (R. 31.) However, the ALJ considered various factors such as Plaintiff’s age and education to conclude that he is capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, particularly informational clerk, usher, and host jobs. (R. 31-32.)



         Under the Act, a person is disabled if she has an “inability to engage in any [SGA] by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a). In order to determine whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner considers the following five questions in order: (1) Is the claimant presently unemployed? (2) Does the claimant have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations? (4) Is the claimant unable to perform her former occupation? and (5) Is the claimant unable to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). An affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the claimant is disabled. Young v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. Id. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps 1-4. Id. Once the claimant shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show the claimant’s ability to engage in other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.


         Section 405(g) provides in relevant part that “[t]he 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). Judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner (here, the decision of the Appeals Council affirming the findings of the ALJ) is limited to determining whether its findings are supported by substantial evidence or based upon legal error. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1153 (7th Cir. 1997). Substantial 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); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). This court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence. Skinner, 478 F.3d at 841; see also Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that an ALJ’s decision must be affirmed even if “’reasonable minds could differ’” as long as “the decision is adequately supported.”) (citation omitted).

         The Commissioner is not required to address “every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, [but 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). In cases where the Commissioner denies benefits to a claimant, she must “build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to [her] conclusion.” Clifford, 227 F.3d 863 at 872. The written decision must at least minimally articulate the “analysis of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005); Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 634 (7th Cir. 2007) (“An ALJ has a duty to fully develop the record before drawing any conclusions . . . and must adequately articulate his analysis so that we can follow his reasoning . . . .”); see Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005).

         Where conflicting evidence would allow reasonable minds to differ, the responsibility for determining whether a claimant is disabled falls upon the Commissioner, not the court. See Herr v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 178, 181 (7th Cir. 1990). However, an ALJ may not “select and discuss only that evidence that favors his ultimate conclusion, ” but must instead consider all relevant evidence. Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 333 (7th Cir. 1994); see Scrogham v. Colvin, 765 F.3d 685, 698 (7th Cir. 2014) ...

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