United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
KATHLEEN M. SCHOCK, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.
Kathleen M. Schock filed this action seeking reversal of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 423 et seq. The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate
Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Plaintiff has
filed a request to reverse the ALJ's decision and award
benefits. Alternatively, she requests that this Court reverse
the decision and remand for additional proceedings. For the
reasons stated below, the Commissioner's decision is
reversed and remanded.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
recover Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), a claimant must
establish that he or she is disabled within the meaning of
the Act. York v. Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977
(N.D. Ill. 2001). A person is disabled if he or she is
unable to perform “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.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1505(a). In determining whether a claimant suffers from a
disability, the Commissioner conducts a standard five-step
1. Is the claimant presently unemployed?
2. Does the claimant have a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that interferes with basic
work-related activities and is expected to last at least 12
3. Does the impairment meet or equal one of a list of
specific impairments enumerated in the regulations?
4. Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former
5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work?
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520; see Clifford
v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir. 2000). “An
affirmative answer leads either to the next step, or, on
Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is disabled. A
negative answer at any point, other than Step 3, ends the
inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant is not
disabled.” Zalewski v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 160,
162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985). “The burden of proof is on the
claimant through step four; only at step five does the burden
shift to the Commissioner.” Clifford, 227 F.3d
applied for DIB on October 27, 2010, alleging that she became
disabled on May 16, 2010, due to fibromyalgia,
osteoarthritis, herniated discs, sleep apnea, high blood
pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, plantar fasciitis,
depression, and allergies. (R. at 19, 100, 246). The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration,
after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
(Id. at 19, 100-01, 105-108, 113-115, 117). On
October 31, 2012, Plaintiff, represented by counsel,
testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Id. at 19, 34-99). The ALJ also heard
testimony from Ashok Jilhewar, M.D., a medical expert (ME),
and Jeffery W. Lucas, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.
at 19, 34-99, 203, 205).
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on November 29,
2012. (R. at 19- 28). Applying the five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 16, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Id. at
21). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's obesity,
fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus, status post cervical fusion,
obstructive sleep apnea, and degenerative disc disease are
severe impairments. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of any of the listings enumerated in the
regulations. (Id. at 23).
then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) and determined that she can perform
sedentary work “except she cannot climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolding. She can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. She can perform
frequent but not constant handling, fingering, and reaching
bilaterally.” (R. at 23). Based on Plaintiff's RFC
and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined at step four
that Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work as a
manager of a financial institution as that job is generally
performed in economy. (Id. at 27). Accordingly, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not suffering from a
disability, as defined by the Act. (Id.).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
April 15, 2014. (R. at 1-5). Plaintiff now seeks judicial
review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized
by § 405(g) of the SSA. In reviewing this decision, the
Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the
plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social
Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d
995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions
of credibility, or, in gen- eral, substitute [its] own
judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Id.
The Court's task is “limited to determining whether
the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)).
Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable
person would accept it as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d
470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743
F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the
ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial
evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on
substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis
of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit
meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel.
Taylor v. Barn-hart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's
determination, it “must do more than merely rubber
stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v.
Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation
omitted). “This deferential standard of review is
weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it
does not mean that we scour the record for supportive
evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the
ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the
relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014).
Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks eviden-
tiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent
meaningful review, the case must be remanded.”
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
experienced symptoms of fibromyalgia starting in 2004. (R. at
429). In September 2007, Plaintiff began treating with Angela
Maier, M.D., at the Edward Medical Group. (Id. at
371). Dr. Maier diagnosed hypertension, GERD, fibromyal-gia,
and menopausal syndrome. (Id.). In March 2009,
Plaintiff sought treatment for fibromyalgia and
osteoarthritis, while also reporting dizziness and increased
stress. (Id. at 309). On examination, Dr. Maier
found musculoskeletal tenderness and rotator cuff tendinitis.
(Id.). At a follow-up with Dr. Maier on January 4,
2010, Plaintiff reported persistent back pain. (Id.
at 381). Dr. Maier diagnosed fibromyalgia, hypertension, and
possible menopausal symptoms. (R. at 382). She prescribed
phen-termine and increased a previously prescribed
Premarin dosage. (Id.).
February 1, 2010, Plaintiff reported continued minor aches
and pressure in the back, but noted that Premarin seemed to
help. (R. at 379, 380). On May 4, Plaintiff reported that her
lower back pain was 6/10. (R. at 373). Dr. Maier pre- scribed
Darvocet, and told her to continue to use Alieve and Tylenol
for the pain.(R. at 373-74). Dr. Maier also began to
wean Plaintiff off phentermine, and opined that she should
diet and exercise. (R. at 374). On June ...