United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffery T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge
Sarah Davis ("Claimant") seeks review of the final
decision of Respondent Carolyn W, Colvin, Acting Commissioner
of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), denying
Claimant's application for disability insurance under
Title II of the Social Security Act. In accordance with 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. 12.] Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56,
the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. [ECF
No. 16; ECF No. 21.] For the reasons stated below,
Claimant's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 16] is
denied and the Commissioner's Cross-Motion for Summary
Judgment [ECF No. 21] is granted. The decision of the
Commissioner is affirmed.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits on
February 1, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of January
26, 2012. (R. 160.) After an initial denial and a denial on
reconsideration, Claimant filed a request for an
administrative hearing. (R. 119.) Claimant, represented by
counsel, appeared and testified before an Administrative Law
Judge (the "ALJ") on January 29, 2013, (R. 52,
56-85, 95.) Claimant's husband Jesse Davis and a
Vocational Expert (the "VE") also testified. (R.
March 4, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Claimant's applications for benefits based on a finding
that she was not disabled under the Social Security Act from
her alleged onset date through the date of her hearing. (R.
35-46.) The opinion followed the five-step sequential
evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that
Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged onset date of January 26, 2012. (R. 37.) At
step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine, history of sarcoidosis, sleep apnea, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disorder, hypertension, diabetes
mellitus, and left anterior artery bulging. (R. 38.) At step
three, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment
or 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. §§
416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926) (the "Listings.")
step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a restricted
range of light work, in that she could lift and/or carry
twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. She
could sit or stand/walk for up to six hours in an eight hour
workday, but could only sit for up to thirty minutes
continuously and stand and/or walk for up to one hour
continuously. She had the following postural and
environmental restrictions: she could never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolding; she could only occasionally climb
ramps and stairs, stoop, or crouch; she needed to avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme cold, heat, wetness,
humidity, and pulmonary irritants, and could never work with
hazardous machinery or in high exposed places. (R. 39.) Based
on this RFC and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ determined
at step four that Claimant was capable of performing her past
relevant work as a customer service representative. (R. 45.)
Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Claimant
was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 46.) The
Social Security Appeals Council subsequently denied
Claimant's request for review, and the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 7.)
See Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir.
2009). Claimant now seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Barnhart, 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, 106-107 (2000). Under
such circumstances, the district court reviews the decision
of the ALJ. Id. Judicial review is limited to
determining whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the
correct legal standards in reaching her decision. Nelms
v. Astrue, 553F.3d 1093, 1097.
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 findings will not be
upheld if the ALJ does not "build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion."
Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008).
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.
"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). Though the
standard of review is deferential, a reviewing court must
"conduct a critical review of the evidence" before
affirming the Commissioner's decision. Eichstadt v.
Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). It may not,
however, "displace the ALJ's judgment by
reconsidering facts or evidence." Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Thus,
judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALT
applied the correct legal standards and whether there is
substantial evidence to support the findings. Nelms v.
Astrue, 553 F.3d at 1097. 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).
argues, first, that the ALJ erred in not listing her
depression as a severe impairment. Second, she contends that
the ALJ made several errors in finding that her impairments
do not, individually or in combination, meet or medically
equal one of the Listings. Third, she argues that the
ALJ's assessment of her RFC is not supported by
substantial evidence. Fourth, Claimant finds error in the
ALJ's evaluation of her credibility.
initial matter, Claimant's brief is notable for a
recurrent failure on the part of counsel to support
Claimant's arguments with evidence from the record. The
defect may arise from counsel's mistaken understanding of
the nature of the proceedings before this Court. In
Claimant's Reply brief, counsel argues that "the
kind of 'proof required in Social Security disability
appeals is different from that which is required in bench or
jury trials." In support of this position, counsel cites
Sims v. Apfel, in which the Supreme Court noted that
"Social Security proceedings are inquisitorial rather
than adversarial." 530 U.S. 103, 110-11 (2000).
is mistaken in his belief that he need not supply the Court
with evidence to back his assertions. While it is true that,
at the hearing level, a Social Security proceeding is not
adversarial, this case has moved beyond the hearing stage.
The current proceeding is a civil suit in federal court, and
it is adversarial in nature. See Hearing before Committee
on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security,
Statement of Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner, Social Security
Administration, June 28, 2012 ("In contrast to the ALJ
hearing, Federal courts employ an adversarial process.")
Here, both parties are represented by counsel, and the duty
to develop arguments is now theirs. Compare Sims,530 U.S. 103 at 111 (noting that, at the administrative
level, the "Commissioner has no representative before
the ALJ to oppose the claim for benefits.") Counsel
submitted an opening brief marked by scattershot, undeveloped
and conclusory arguments, most bearing little reference to