United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
LINDA G. BROWN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Linda G. Brown filed this action seeking reversal of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) 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), and have filed
cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated
below, Plaintiff's motion is granted and the ALJ's
decision is remanded for further proceedings consistent with
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,
976-77 (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, stops
inquiry and leads to a determination that the 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 May 24, 2011, alleging that she became
disabled on October 20, 2005. (R. at 119, 244-50). The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration,
after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
(Id. at 114-15, 119). On March 19, 2013, Plaintiff,
represented by counsel, testified at a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 13-99, 119).
Plaintiff's sister, Denise Lear, and Brian L. Harmon, a
vocational expert (VE), also appeared and testified.
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on May 28, 2013.
(R. at 119-27). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period of
October 20, 2005, the alleged onset date, through June 30,
2010, her date last insured. (Id. at 121). At step
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, osteoarthritis,
and anxiety. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ first
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 121-22). The ALJ then assessed
Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) and determined that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity to perform a range of light
work, except “no ladders, ropes or scaffolds, no more
than frequent handling, reaching, fingering and only simple,
routine, repetitive tasks.” (Id. at 122). At
step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform her
past relevant work as an assembler as it was generally
performed at the unskilled/light exertional level.
(Id. at 126). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not disabled, as defined by the Act, at any
time from October 20, 2005, the alleged onset date, through
June 30, 2010, the date last insured. (Id. at 127).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
January 29, 2014. (R. at 1-6). 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 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act. 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 general, 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 42 U.S.C. § 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. Barnhart, 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).
The Court must critically review the ALJ's decision to
ensure that the ALJ has built an “accurate and logical
bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.”
Young, 362 F.3d at 1002. Where the
Commissioner's decision “lacks evidentiary 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. 2002).
2002, Plaintiff has been a patient at Lake County Health
Department and Community Health Center (Lake County), and was
treated by Oana Nisipeanu, M.D. (R. at 565). On October 25,
2004, Plaintiff underwent a Pap smear at Lake County.
(Id. at 472). It was noted that she had acid reflux
and stomach ache, especially after eating greasy food.
(Id.). It was also noted that she had a rash under
both breasts and between her legs, and that she may have
arthritis. (Id.). On December 6, 2004, Plaintiff
followed up for a blood pressure check. (Id.). She
complained about losing weight and fatigue. (Id.).
She also complained of index finger pain and swelling.
(Id.). She was prescribed hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)
for her blood pressure. (Id.) On December 13, 2004,
Plaintiff followed up for her lab results. (Id. at
471). She commented that she hoped the doctor would prescribe
her something for her arthritis and that she was under a lot
of stress lately. (Id.). On a July 18, ...