United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
KEVIN J. BONATO, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MARIA VALDEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.”)
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).
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)