United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JEFFREY T. GILBERT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Jamil Samaha (“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 and supplemental
security income under Title XVI of the Social Security 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. 6.]
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the parties have
cross-moved for summary judgment. [ECF No. 13; ECF No. 19.]
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.
2011 Claimant applied for supplemental security income and
disability insurance benefits, claiming a disability onset
date of November 1, 2004. (R. 200-08.) After an initial denial
and a denial on reconsideration, Claimant filed a request for
an administrative hearing. (R. 88, 92, 138-39.) Claimant,
represented by counsel, appeared and testified before an
Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) on December
12, 2012. (R. 44-72, 79-82.) A vocational expert also
testified. (R. 44, 70-79.)
April 19, 2013, 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.
20-36.) 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, 2015. (R. 22.)
At step one, the ALJ concluded that Claimant had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset
date. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found
that Claimant had the severe impairments of coronary artery
disease status post coronary artery bypass grafting surgery,
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (R. 23.) 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 work at
the light exertional level and maintain productive work tasks
for up to 98-100% of a normal workday, but with the following
restrictions: he could only stand for up to one hour
uninterrupted and for up to a total of six hours in an
eight-hour workday; he could only occasionally climb ramps
and stairs and could never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; he could only occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, or crawl; he could frequently but not constantly
feel, handle, and finger with his left (non-dominant) hand;
he could have frequent but not constant exposure to extreme
cold, heat, and humidity; and he could not have concentrated
exposure to respiratory irritants. (R. 24-25.) Based on this
RFC, the ALJ determined at step four that Claimant could not
perform his past relevant work of short-order cook. (R. 33.)
However, at step five, the ALJ found that Claimant was able
to perform other work existing in the national economy,
including the jobs of ticket seller, mail clerk, cashier, or
ticket taker. (R. 34.) Because of this determination, the ALJ
found that Claimant was not disabled under the Social
Security Act. (R. 35.) 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. 1-3.) 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, 553 F.3d at 1097.
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 three portions of the ALJ's decision lack
the support of substantial evidence. First, he challenges the
ALJ's RFC assessment because the ALJ improperly
discounted certain medical opinion evidence. Second, Claimant
charges that the ALJ improperly discounted his credibility.
Third, he takes issue with the ALJ's step five finding
that he is capable of performing jobs that exist in the
national economy. The Court agrees that the ALJ's
weighing of the opinion evidence and his assessment of
Claimant's credibility are both ...