United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND, United States Magistrate Judge
Thomas Michael Massion filed this action seeking reversal of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying his 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), and Plaintiff has filed a
motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below,
this case 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, 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
protectively applied for DIB on October 13, 2011, alleging
that he became disabled on July 14, 2010, because of three
degenerated disks in his lower back and de Quervain's
tenosynovitis in his right wrist and arm. (R. at 18, 211).
The application was denied initially and on reconsideration,
after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
(Id. at 18, 77-93, 97-102). On July 19, 2013,
Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a video
hearing before William Wenzel, an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Id. at 18, 40-62). The ALJ also heard
testimony from Gilberto Munoz, M.D., a medical expert (ME),
and Pamela G. Tucker, a vocational expert (VE). (Id.
at 18, 42-48, 62-75, 135, 137).
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on March 22,
2014. (R. at 18-30). Applying the five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since July 14, 2010, the alleged onset date. (Id. at
20). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's history
of low back and left leg pain, secondary to possible L3
radiculopathy, are severe impairments. (Id. at
20-21). The ALJ further found Plaintiff's right wrist
pain and te-nosynovitis to be a nonsevere impairment.
(Id. at 21-22). 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 22-24).
then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) and determined that he can perform light
work, except that:
[H]e is limited to frequent overhead reaching and no more
than occasional handling and fingering with the right hand.
[Plaintiff] is also limited to no more than occasional
operation of foot controls on the left with occasional
ability to crouch or climb. [Plaintiff] should avoid climbing
ladders and scaffolds and should avoid work at unprotected
heights. With regard to environmental limitations,
[Plaintiff] should avoid vibrations and cold.
(R. at 24). At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Id. at
29). Based upon 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 a call
out clerk or an information clerk. (Id. at 29-30).
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not
suffering from a disability, as defined by the Act.
(Id. at 30).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
June 25, 2015. (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 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 ‘log- ical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Moon v. Colvin, 763718, 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
2010, Plaintiff presented to Antonio Baluga Jr., M.D., at
MedChoice Medical Center with complaints of persistent low
back pain for the past three to six months. (R. at 287). The
pain had recently started radiating into his left lower
extremities, with associated numbness and tingling.
(Id.). Plaintiff reported his pain worsened with
bending, lifting, and prolonged sitting. (Id.).
Physical examination demonstrated abnormal lumbar range of
motion, a positive left tripod test and a positive left
Kemp's test, all with tingling down the left
(Id.). Left straight leg raise (SLR) test was
positive at 80 degrees,  and tenderness was noted over the left
sciatic nerve. (Id.). An x-ray of the lumbar spine
revealed minimal degenerative disc height narrowing at ¶
4-L5 and minimal anterior endplate osteophyte superiorly at
¶ 4. (Id. at 291). Dr. Baluga diagnosed
Plaintiff with degenerative disc disease,  and Plaintiff was
referred to physical therapy for further evaluation and
treatment. (Id. at 287, 291-92).
of the lumbar spine was performed on August 11, 2010, which
revealed mild disc bulges without disc herniation at ¶
1-L2 and L2-L3. (R. at 411). At ¶ 3-L4, there was a
moderate diffuse disc bulge associated with bilateral
broad-based protrusions. (Id.). The central canal
was exposed, but there was “marginal displacement of
the right L3 nerve root sleeve” and “an annular
tear resulting in mild displacement of the left L3 nerve root