United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division
SHERRI L. MENDENHALL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
ORDER AND OPINION
MYERSCOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sherri L. Mendenhall has appealed from the Commissioner of
Social Security’s decision denying her application for
Title II disability insurance benefits and Title XVI
supplemental security income. Plaintiff’s Motion for
Summary Judgment and Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Affirmance are DENIED, and this case is REMANDED for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion based upon the new
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 16-3p, which replaced SSR 96-7p.
SSR 16-3p eliminates “the use of the term
‘credibility’ from our sub-regulatory policy [to]
clarify that subjective symptom evaluation is not an
examination of an individual's character.”
March 22, 2012, Plaintiff applied for disability and
disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental
security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff alleged that she was disabled as defined in the
Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382 et seq.
(the Act). The Act defines disability as the inability
“to engage in any substantial gainful activity 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.” Id. at §
1382(c). Plaintiff originally claimed that her disability
began in May of 2005, but she amended her application to
allege an onset date of February 15, 2010. (R. 42).
claims were initially denied on July 9, 2012. (R. 78). Upon
reconsideration, Plaintiff’s claims were again denied
on December 24, 2012. (R. 86). On December 26, 2012,
Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. (R. 94). On
October 23, 2013, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) David W.
Thompson held a video hearing on the matter. (R. 30).
Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert testified at the
hearing. Id. On January 2, 2014, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from
February 15, 2010 through the date of the decision. (R. 23).
Plaintiff appealed the ALJ’s decision and filed a
Motion for Summary Judgment on August 17, 2015. (D/e 12). The
Commissioner of Social Security filed a Motion for Summary
Affirmance on December 2, 2015. (D/e 15).
March 28, 2016, the Social Security Administration (SSA)
issued a new Social Security Ruling interpreting the
Administration’s policy concerning determinations of
disability. The new ruling, SSR 16-3p, eliminates the use of
the term “credibility, ” clarifying “that
subjective symptom evaluation is not an examination of an
individual's character.” Although the effective
date of the new ruling post-dates the ALJ’s decision in
this matter, the new rule must be applied retroactively
requiring remand in this case.
Duty of the ALJ
determining whether a claimant is disabled under the Social
Security Act, the ALJ follows a standard five-step analysis.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). At the second of these
five steps, the ALJ uses a two-step sub-analysis when
evaluating a claimant’s symptoms. SSR 16-3p; see
also 81 FR 14166 (“we use a two-step process for
evaluating an individual's symptoms”). At the first
step of the sub-analysis, which has not changed, the ALJ
determines “whether the individual has a medically
determinable impairment that could reasonably be expected to
produce the individual's alleged symptoms.” SSR
16-3p. SSR 16-3p defines “symptoms” as
Plaintiff’s “own description or statement of 
her physical or mental impairment(s).” See
also 20 CFR §§ 404.1529 (guidelines for
symptom evaluation), 416.929 (same).
Thompson applied the now-superseded SSR 96-7p. After the ALJ
found the medically determinable impairment that produced
Plaintiff’s alleged symptoms at the first step, the ALJ
moved on to the second step. “The adjudicator must
[then] evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting
effects of the individual’s symptoms to determine the
extent to which the symptoms limit the individual's
ability to do basic work activities.” SSR 96-7p. To do
this, “the adjudicator must make a finding on the
credibility of the individual’s statements based on a
consideration of the entire case record.” Id.
However, when the SSA instituted SSR 16-3p, the SSA clarified
“that subjective symptom evaluation is not an
examination of an individual’s character.” SSR
support the ALJ’s findings based on the five-step
process set out at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 as well as the
new two-step sub-analysis in SSR 16-3p, the ALJ must
“build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence
to [his] conclusion.” Steele v. Barnhart, 290
F.3d 936, 941 (7th Cir. 2002). The ALJ’s must also
“articulate his reasons and make a bridge between the
evidence and the outcome as to his step five
determination.” Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d
363, 371 (7th Cir. 2004). The ALJ must adequately articulate
his findings so that this Court can trace his reasoning and
be sure that he took into account all the important evidence.
Rohan v. Chater, 98 F.3d 966, 971 (7th Cir. 1996).
Moreover, “an ALJ cannot rely only on the evidence that
supports [his] opinion. And while an ALJ need not mention
every piece of evidence in [his] opinion, [he] cannot ignore
a line of evidence that suggests a disability.”
Bates v. Colvin, 736 F.3d 1093, 1099 (7th Cir. 2013)
(internal citations omitted).
Standard of Review
Appeals Council declines to review the decision of an ALJ,
the ALJ’s decision becomes final. 20 C.F.R. §
404.981. However, a claimant may appeal the decision in the
United States District Court for the claimant’s home
district. Id. On appeal, if the District Court finds
that the Commissioner’s factual findings are supported
by substantial evidence, those findings are conclusive.
Id. 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).
Court, when deciding whether the Commissioner’s
decision was supported by substantial evidence, “must
not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or
substitute [its] own judgment.” Clark v.
Sullivan, 891 F.2d 175, 177 (7th Cir. 1989). However, if
the Court finds that “the ALJ's decision
‘lacks evidentiary support or is so poorly articulated
as to prevent meaningful review, the case must be
remanded.’” Giles v. Astrue, 483 F.3d
483, 486 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Steele v.
Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir. 2002)).
Nevertheless, even if “reasonable minds could differ
concerning whether [Plaintiff] is disabled, ” the Court
must uphold the ALJ’s decision so ...