United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
TERESA J. HARRIS, 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 Teresa J.
Harris seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
applied for benefits in February 2012, alleging disability
beginning on June 30, 2010 (Tr. 11). After holding an
evidentiary hearing, ALJ Carla Suffi denied the application
in a written decision dated January 29, 2014. (Tr. 11-24).
The Appeals Council denied review, and the decision of the
ALJ became the final agency decision. (Tr. 1). Administrative
remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed
in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following point:
ALJ erred in weighing the medical opinions.
qualify for DIB or 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. Harris 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
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). However,
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 ALJ
followed the five-step analytical framework described above.
She determined that plaintiff had not worked at the level of
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
She found that plaintiff had severe impairments of obesity,
cervical degenerative disc disease status post fusion
surgery, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, right ulnar
neuropathy, degenerative tear in right wrist, osteoarthritis
and lateral epicondylitis in right elbow, osteoarthritis of
the right shoulder, depression, panic disorder and PTSD. She
further determined that plaintiff's impairments do not
meet or equal a listed impairment.
found that Ms. Harris 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 47 years old on the alleged onset
date of June 30, 2010. She was insured for DIB through
December 31, 2014. (Tr. 164). She had worked as a
histotechnologist at a VA hospital from 1983 through
2011.(T. 167). Plaintiff described her job
duties as “I processed, embedded, cut and stained human
tissue samples. I assisted with autopsies and other medical
procedures that required lifting of the bodies. I performed
preventative maintenance.” (Tr. 192).
submitted a Function Report in March 2012 in which she stated
that she took medications three times a day, used a TENS unit
four times a day, used a bone growth stimulator once a day,
used ice on her neck and arms, did prescribed occupational
therapy and went to doctor appointments. She stated that she
watched TV and sometimes when to the store, pharmacy or post
office with her mother. (Tr. 202). She did no household
chores. Her mother did the housework and her brother did the
yardwork. (Tr. 203). She said she could not work because she
was depressed and in pain. (Tr. 204).
2012, plaintiff reported that her depression and anxiety were
much worse. (Tr. 233). She was taking Prozac and Xanax. She
said that she stayed in bed most of the time and that
“my employer is destroying me physically and mentally
and financially with constant threats.” (Tr. 236-237).
In August 2012, she reported that she did not get out of bed
often. (Tr. 242). She had been terminated from her job in
June 2012. (Tr. 245). She said she “blew the
whistle” on the VA Medical Center, her former employer,
and she ...