United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Rowland, Magistrate Judge
Mary Ann Moynihan filed this action seeking reversal of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
her application for Social Security Income (SSI) under Title
XVI 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 Plaintiff has filed
a request to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand for
additional proceedings. For the reasons stated below, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
recover SSI, 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 SSI on August 31, 2011, alleging that she became
disabled on September 2, 2008, because of arthritis of the
hip and back, depression, and anxiety. (R. at 25). The
application was denied initially on January 5, 2012 and again
on reconsideration. (Id. at 74-76). Plaintiff filed
a timely request for a hearing. (Id. at 79-81). On
May 30, 2013, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
(Id. at 38). The ALJ also heard testimony from
Jennifer Carril, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.).
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on September 27,
2013. (R. at 17). Applying the five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 31, 2011. (Id. at 22). At step two, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff's arthritis of hip and back,
depression, and anxiety 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 light
[t]he claimant can occasionally lift and carry twenty pounds;
can frequently lift and carry ten pounds; can be on her feet
standing and walking for at least six hours in an eight hour
workday, with normal rest periods; can sit for at least six
hours in an eight hour workday, with normal rest periods; can
never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally
climb ramps and stairs; can occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch, and crawl; can understand, remember, and
car-ryout simple work instructions and execute simple
workspace judgments; can perform routine work that involves
occasional changes and decision making and can only
occasionally interact with the general public.
(R. at 24). The ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff
has no past relevant work. (Id. at 29). Based on
Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ determined at step five that there are
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that Plaintiff can perform, including housekeeper,
hand presser, and bench assembler. (Id. at 30).
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
suffering from a disability, as defined by the Act.
(Id. at 31).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
November 4, 2014. (R. at 1-3). 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 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 §
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 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).
RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
February 2001, Plaintiff stopped working due to a back
injury. (R. at 144). Prior to that time, she had been working
as a cashier in retail stores, a fast food worker at a hot
dog stand, and a teller at the currency exchange.
(Id. at 145).
August 4, 2011, Plaintiff began treating with George
Michaels, M.D., at the Access Community Health Network (ACHN)
in Chicago, Illinois. (R. at 222). She complained of
persistent back pain. (Id. at 230). On examination,
Dr. Michaels noted myalgias and back pain but no joint
swelling or gait abnormalities. (Id.). Plaintiff had
mild tenderness on the left paravertebral muscle at the
lumbar level, but her cervical and musculoskeletal range of
motion were normal and she could perform a straight leg raise
test above 80° bilaterally. (Id. at 231). Dr.
Michaels assessed back pain and prescribed
October 14, 2011, Plaintiff was treated at Mount Sinai
Medical Center Emergency Department complaining of back and
hip pain that had been getting worse over the prior month.
(R. at 248). An examination noted back pain and inflammation
but full range of motion, a normal gait, and intact
sensation. (Id. at 252-53). No mental health issues
were complained of or present. (Id. at 248, 253).
Charles Barron, M.D., ordered X-rays of the pelvis, right
hip, and lumbosacral spine. (Id. at 246-48). X-rays
of the pelvis and hip revealed mild bilateral hip
osteo-arthritis with mild superior joint space narrowing and
small osteophytes bilaterally along with numerous calcified
phleboliths. (Id. at 246). The lumbar spine
X-ray revealed minimal levocurvature of the lumbar spine ...