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Samaha v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 2, 2016

JAMIL SAMAHA, Claimant,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JEFFREY T. GILBERT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Claimant 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.]

         Pursuant 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.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In July 2011 Claimant applied for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits, claiming a disability onset date of November 1, 2004.[1] (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.)

         On 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.[2] (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.) (Id.)

         Before 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).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A 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.

         Substantial 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. 2009).

         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). 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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Claimant 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 ...


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