United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge.
Brenda Miller ("Claimant") seeks review of the
final decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security ("the
Commissioner"), denying Claimant's applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title
II of the Social Security Act ("the Act") and
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title
XVI of the Act. Pursuant to 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. 7.] The parties
have filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. [ECF Nos. 17, 24.] For
the following reasons, Claimant's motion is granted and
the Commissioner's motion is denied. This matter is
remanded to the Social Security Administration ("the
SSA") for further proceedings consistent with this
Memorandum Opinion and Order.
September 1, 2011, Claimant filed her DIB and SSI
applications, alleging a disability onset date of May 1,
2011, due to arthritis, fibromyalgia ("FMS"),
osteoarthritis, cysts, anxiety, ulcers, short attention span,
and memory issues. (R. 137-50, 176, 179-87.) After an initial
denial on November 21, 2011, and a denial on reconsideration
on May 17, 2012, Claimant filed a request for an
administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("the ALJ") on July 13, 2012. (R. 66-69, 92-93.)
Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at
the hearing, which took place on May 31, 2013. (R. 31-65.) A
Vocational Expert ("the VE") also testified at the
August 23, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Claimant's applications and finding that she was not
disabled under the Act. (R. 11-25.) As an initial matter, the
ALJ found that Claimant met the insured status requirement of
the Act through June 30, 2013. (R, 13.) At step one, the ALJ
determined that Claimant had not engaged in Substantial
Gainful Activity ("SGA") since her alleged onset
date of May 1, 2011. Id. At step two, the ALJ found
that Claimant had the severe impairments of FMS, affective
disorder, and anxiety disorder. (R. 14.) At step three, the
ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meet or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, App'x I. (R. 19.)
step four, the ALJ determined that Claimant had the Residual
Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform light work,
except that she can occasionally lift and carry 20 pounds and
frequently 10 pounds, can sit, stand, and walk for six hours
during an eight-hour workday with normal or customary breaks,
can occasionally push and pull 20 pounds and frequently 10
pounds, occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds, can understand and remember detailed three to four
step instructions but not complex instructions, has the
attention and concentration to carry out a variety of
detailed instructions with adequate persistence and pace, can
frequently interact with coworkers, supervisors, and the
general public, and can adapt to typical changes in the
workplace. (R. 21.) In so finding, the ALJ determined that
Claimant's statements concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not
entirely credible. (R. 22.) The ALJ also afforded significant
weight to the medical opinions of both medical consultants,
Dr. Michael Cremerius and Dr. Richard Bilinsky. (R. 23-24.)
At step four, the ALJ determined that Claimant is unable to
perform any past relevant work. (R. 24.)
final step, the ALJ considered Claimant's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, and concluded that she could
perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, such as rental clerk, sales attendant, and
housekeeper, (R. 25.) On December 15, 2014, the Appeals
Council denied Claimant's request for review. (R. 1-3.)
That denial made the ALJ's opinion the final decision of
the Commissioner. Id.; see also 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 ("AC") denies a
request for review. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103,
106-07 (2000). Judicial review of the ALJ's decision 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 his decision.
Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir.
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."
Merger 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 Social Security Commissioner 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, or by making independent
credibility determinations." Elder v. Astrue,
529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008); Jens v. Bamhart,
347 F.3d 209, 212 (7th Cir, 2003). 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),
challenging the ALJ's determination, Claimant proffers
three arguments. First, Claimant argues that the ALJ erred in
rendering her credibility determination. Next, Claimant
contends that the ALJ improperly assessed her RFC. Finally,
Claimant argues that the ALJ ignored favorable VE testimony.
The Court finds that the ALJ committed the first error.
Because this error requires remand and will necessitate that
the ALJ reconsider the RFC determination and possibly obtain
new testimony from the VE, the Court will not address
Claimant's second and third arguments, A.
the ALJ issued his decision in this case, the SSA issued new
guidance on how the agency assesses the effects of a
claimant's alleged symptoms. SSR 96-7p and its focus on
"credibility" has been superseded by SSR 16-3p to
"clarify that subjective symptom evaluation is not an
examination of the individual's character." SSR
16-3p, 2016 WL 1119029, at *1; see also Cole v. Colvin,
___ F.3d ___, 2016 WL 3997246, at *1 (7th Cir.
July 26, 2016) ("The change in wording is meant to
clarify that [ALJs] aren't in the business of impeaching
claimants' character; obviously [ALJs] will continue to
assess the credibility of pain assertions by applicants,
especially as such assertions often cannot be either credited
or rejected on the basis of medical evidence."). Because
SSR 16-3p is simply a clarification of the
Administration's interpretation of existing law, rather
than a change to it, this new ruling applies to
Claimant's argument in this case. See Quails v.
Colvin, No. 14 CV 2526, 2016 WL 1392320, at *6 (N.D.
Ill. Apr. 8, 2016); Hagberg v. Colvin, No. 14 C 887,
2016 WL 1660493, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 27, 2016).
before, under SSR 16-3p, an ALJ must carefully consider the
entire record and evaluate the "intensity and
persistence of an individual's symptoms to determine the
extent to which the symptoms affect the individual's
ability to do basic work activities." SSR 16-3p, 2016 WL
1119029, at *2, An ALJ need not mention every piece of
evidence in her opinion. See Craft v. Astrue, 539
F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008). But an ALJ is obligated to
consider all relevant medical evidence and may not
cherry-pick facts by ignoring evidence that points to a
disability finding. Goble v. Astrue, 385 Fed.Appx.
588, 593 (7th Cir. 2010). Moreover, an ALJ "may not
disregard subjective complaints merely because they are not
fully supported by objective medical . evidence."
Knight v. Chater,55 F.3d 309, 314 (7th ...