United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JENNIFER M. CUMMINGS, Claimant,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY T. GILBERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Jennifer M. Cummings ("Claimant") seeks review of
the final decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security ("the
Commissioner"), denying Claimant's applications for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local
Rule 73.1, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of a
United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including
entry of final judgment. [ECF No. 5.]
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the parties
cross-moved for summary judgment. [ECF No. 14; ECF No. 21.]
For the reasons stated below, Claimant's motion for
summary judgment is granted and the Commissioner's is
denied. The decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the
case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
Memorandum Opinion and Order.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits on
January 18, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of
December 3, 2010. (R. 135.) After an initial denial and a
denial on reconsideration, Claimant filed a request for an
administrative hearing. (R. 81-82, 93- 94.) Claimant, who was
unrepresented at her hearing, appeared and testified before
an Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") on May 16,
2012. (R. 39-71.) A vocational expert also testified. (R. 39,
13, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Claimant's application for benefits based on a finding
that she was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R.
24-38.) The opinion followed the five-step sequential
evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. As an initial matter, the ALJ
noted that Claimant met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014. (R. 29.)
At step one, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of
December 3, 2010. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Claimant had the severe impairments of degenerative disc
disease, headaches, fibromyalgia, plantar fasciitis, obesity,
and a history of colitis. (Id.) 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. §404.1520.)
step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary
work with the following restrictions: she could never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; she could only occasionally
perform overhead reaching; and she could have only occasional
exposure to noise, vibration, and hazards such as machinery
or unprotected heights. (R. 30.) Based on this RFC, the ALJ
determined at step four that Claimant could perform her past
relevant work of optometric assistant. (R. 33.) As an
alternate finding, at step five, the ALJ found that Claimant
was able to perform other work existing in the national
economy, including the jobs of surveillance system monitor,
charge account clerk, and telephone quotation clerk. (R.
33-34.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that
Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R.
34.) 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. 18-20.)
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.3datl097.
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 ALJ
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).
asserts that at least seven distinct errors mar the ALJ's
analysis, mandating remand. Among the errors she cites are
the ALJ's omission of any assessment of her treating
chiropractor's opinions and the ALJ's failure to
adequately assess the functional impact of her headaches.
Because these issues mandate remand, the Court will not
address Claimant's other arguments in full at this time.
The ALJ Erred in Omitting Reference to the Opinions of