United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MARY J. OAKLEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CLIFFORD J. PROUD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Mary J.
Oakley seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying her application for Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) Benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for benefits in January 2010, alleging disability
beginning on November 15, 2009. (Tr. 149). After holding an
evidentiary hearing, ALJ Stuart T. Janney denied the
application in a written decision dated January 31, 2012.
(Tr. 26-38). Plaintiff sought judicial review of that final
decision; the parties agreed to a remand pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. §405(g). (Tr. 806).
remand, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to further
evaluate plaintiff’s mental impairments, determine
whether drug addiction and alcoholism are contributing
factors, and, if warranted, obtain supplemental evidence from
a vocational expert. (Tr. 809-810). The case was again
assigned to ALJ Janney, who denied the application on March
2, 2015. (Tr. 1157-1171). The March 2, 2015, decision is the
final decision subject to judicial review. Administrative
remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed
in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
1. The ALJ failed to consider the combined effects of
2. The ALJ failed to account for plaintiff’s
limitations in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace
and her limitations in interacting with supervisors and
3. The ALJ failed to explain why he rejected
plaintiff’s alleged physical limitations and he gave
significant weight to the opinions of the state agency
physicians, but they did not consider all of the medical
4. The ALJ’s credibility analysis was patently wrong.
qualify for SSI, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes. For these purposes,
“disabled” means 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
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A).
“physical or mental impairment” is an impairment
resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity”
is work activity that involves doing significant physical or
mental activities, and that is done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1572.
Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry
to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as
The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates
whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe,
medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement.
The third step compares the impairment to a list of
impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the
evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an
applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and
ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can
engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth
step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can
engage in other work, he is not disabled.
Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-569 (7th
another way, it must be determined: (1) whether the claimant
is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3)
whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed
impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within
the economy, given his or her age, education and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; Simila v.
Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-513 (7th Cir. 2009.
answer at steps one and two is “yes, ” the
claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she
suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three.
If the claimant does not have a listed impairment at step
three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four),
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick
v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984). See
also Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative
answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5,
to a finding that the claimant is disabled…. If a
claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to
establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in
the national economy.”).
Court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to ensure
that the decision is supported by substantial evidence and
that no mistakes of law were made. It is important to
recognize that the scope of review is limited. “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). Thus, this
Court must determine not whether Ms. Oakley was, in fact,
disabled at the relevant time, but whether the ALJ’s
findings were supported by substantial evidence and whether
any errors of law were made. See, Books v. Chater,
91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Diaz v.
Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th Cir. 1995)).
Supreme Court has defined “substantial evidence”
as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971).
In reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the
entire administrative record is taken into consideration, but
this Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve
conflicts, decide questions of credibility, or substitute its
own judgment for that of the ALJ. Brewer v. Chater,
103 F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir. 1997); Moore v.
Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). At the same
time, while judicial review is deferential, it is not abject;
this Court does not act as a rubber stamp for the
Commissioner. See, Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920,
921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases cited therein.
Decision of the ALJ
Janney followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that plaintiff had worked since the
alleged onset date, but that work did not rise to the level
of substantial gainful activity. He found that plaintiff had
severe impairments of status-post TIA-like episode;
degenerative joint disease of the bilateral hips, bilateral
hands, and bilateral shoulders; degenerative disc disease of
the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine; grade I diastolic
dysfunction; patent foraminal ovale; ganglion cyst; COPD with
resulting pulmonary insufficiency; bipolar disorder;
alcoholism; generalized anxiety disorder; and narcissistic
personality disorder. He further determined that
plaintiff’s impairments do not meet or equal a listed
found that Ms. Oakley had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level, with a
number of physical and mental limitations. Based on the
testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not able to do her past relevant work. She was,
however, not disabled because she was able to do other jobs
which exist in significant numbers in the local and national
Court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to the points
raised by plaintiff and is confined to the relevant time
was born in 1962, and was almost 48 years old on the alleged
onset date of November 15, 2009. (Tr. 184). She alleged
disability because of COPD, emphysema, arthritis in right hip
and right knee, fluid build-up in left wrist, anxiety, and
depression. She was 5’4” tall and weighed 135
pounds. (Tr. 189). She had worked as a cashier, line server
in a restaurant, landscaper and cleaner. (Tr. 191).
submitted a Function Report in January 2010. She stated that
she had severe breathing problems and that she had severe
pain in her hips and back if she spent too much time
standing, sitting, or walking. She did housework in
increments, and only did what she had to do. She had been
diagnosed with adjustment disorder mixed with anxiety and
depression. She ...