United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge
James Robert Shewmake Jr. filed this action seeking reversal
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Titles II
and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 423 et seq., 1381 et seq. The parties
have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States
Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and
filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons
stated below, the case is remanded for further proceedings
consistent with this Opinion.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
recover DIB or 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),
416.905(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, 416.909, 416.920;
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 at 868.
applied for DIB and SSI on May 12, 2010, alleging that he
became disabled on June 1, 2009, because of Crohn's
disease,  diabetes, high blood pressure, eye
condition, hepatitis C, and stress-related anxiety. (R. at
35, 97, 108, 212-23). The application was denied initially
and on reconsideration, after which Plaintiff filed a timely
request for a hearing. (Id. at 35, 97-100, 137). On
September 27, 2011, Plaintiff, represented by counsel,
testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). (Id. at 35, 52-96). The ALJ also heard
testimony from Grace Gian-forte, a vocational expert (VE).
(Id. at 35, 52-96, 198-99).
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on November 7,
2011. (R. at 35- 45). The Appeals Council (AC) denied
Plaintiff's request for review on July 19, 2012. (R. at
1-7). On June 12, 2014, this court reversed and remanded the
ALJ's decision. Shewmake v. Colvin, No. 12 CV
6339, 2014 WL 2619659, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 12, 2014) (Kim,
meantime, on August 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed a subsequent
application for DIB, alleging disability beginning on
November 8, 2011. (R. at 791, 849, 893). On September 13,
2013, the ALJ issued a favorable determination, finding
Plaintiff disabled commencing November 8, 2011. (Id.
at 791, 849-59, 893). On September 2, 2014, the AC affirmed
the disability decision beginning November 8, 2011, but
determined that the period prior to November 8, 2011,
required further administra- tive proceedings. (Id.
at 791, 893). Therefore, the AC vacated the ALJ's
November 7, 2011 decision and remanded to an ALJ for further
proceedings consistent with the June 12, 2014 Opinion of this
court. (Id.). On March 16, 2015, Plaintiff,
represented by counsel, testified at a second hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at 791,
1070-105). The ALJ also heard testimony from GleeAnn L. Kehr,
a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 791, 1023,
again denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on April 2,
2015. (R. at 791- 808). Applying the five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from June 1, 2009, the alleged onset date, through November
7, 2011 (the relevant period). (Id. at 793-94). At
step two, the ALJ found that during the relevant period,
Plaintiff's Crohn's disease, hepatitis C, a spinal
disorder, diabetes mellitus, and mood and anxiety disorders
were severe impairments. (Id. at 794-95). At step
three, the ALJ determined that during the relevant period,
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any
of the listings enumerated in the regulations. (Id.
then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) and determined that during the relevant
period, he had the capacity to perform sedentary work, except
was further limited to work requiring no climbing of ladders,
ropes, and scaffolds, no more than frequent balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling, could tolerate
occasional exposure to hazards and could frequently operate
motor vehicles. Additionally, [Plaintiff] was limited to work
comprised of simple, routine, repetitive tasks with a relaxed
or flexible production rate requirement in the shift.
(R. at 798). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that during the
relevant period, Plaintiff was unable to perform any past
relevant work. (Id. at 806). At step five, based on
Plaintiff's RFC, age, education, and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ determined that during the relevant
period, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers
in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed
such as address clerk, account clerk, and telephone clerk.
(Id. at 806-07). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
during the period of June 1, 2009, through November 7, 2011,
Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability, as defined by
the Act. (Id. at 807-08).
did not file written exceptions with the AC, and the AC did
not review the ALJ's decision on its own. (Mot. 2).
Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's
decision, which stands as the final decision of the
Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.984(d), 416.1484(d).
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 eviden-
tiary 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.
RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
began complaining of diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting in July
2009. (R. at 471). He was having profuse, bloody diarrhea,
with about 15 loose bowel movements daily. (Id. at
352-53). On July 28, 2009, after three weeks of chronic
diarrhea, he was admitted to Provena Saint Joseph Medical
Hospital because of bloody diarrhea, renal failure, and
dehydration, and was kept for observation and treatment until
July 31. (Id. at 349, 355). Flashade M. Kareem,
M.D., diagnosed bloody diarrhea, most likely inflammatory
bowel disease (IBD), acute renal failure, insulin dependent
diabetes mellitus, and hypertension, and prescribed Asacol
and Flagyl.(Id. at 349).
16, 2009, after seeing Plaintiff every one to three months
for almost three years for a variety of ailments, Linda
Hushaw, APN,  completed a Medical Source Statement. (R.
at 627-30). Plaintiff's symptoms included chronic
fatigue, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain,
recurrent/persistent diarrhea, bowel incontinence, and weight
loss. (Id. at 627). Hushaw opined that Plaintiff was
incapable of even low-stress jobs because of frequent
Crohn's disease flare-ups and hospitaliza-tions.
(Id. at 628). She also opined that Plaintiff needs
to take unscheduled breaks every hour due to pain, fatigue,
and diarrhea. (Id. at 629).
August 14, 2009, Plaintiff denied any diarrhea since he was
discharged from the hospital. (R. at 465). A physical
examination of his abdomen was unremarkable. (Id. at
466). Laura Neilsen, PAC,  later co-signed by Yatin Shah, M.D.,
diagnosed ulcerative colitis, continued Asacol, and
recommended that Plaintiff avoid spicy, fatty, and
gas-producing foods, and other dietary triggers.
(Id. at 467). On October 7, Neilsen prescribed
ranitidine,  recommended that Plaintiff avoid spicy,
fatty, gas-producing, and lactose-containing foods, and
referred him to a gastroenterologist. (Id. at 463).
February 2, 2010, a capsule endoscopy found only a few small
erosions. (R. at 392). Kamran Ayub, M.D., noted that
Plaintiff was doing well on Asacol. (Id. at 396). On
March 4, Plaintiff complained of diarrhea, along with
episodic abdominal pain not controlled by his medications,
for which he was prescribed Norco. (Id. at 446, 448).
On April 6, Plaintiff reported a flare-up in his ulcerative
colitis after eating peanuts and deviled eggs and requested a
pain medication for his chronic ab- dominal discomfort.
(Id. at 442). At the gastroenterologist's
recommendation, the Norco dosage was increased and Florastor
was prescribed. (Id. at 442, 445). On May 6,
Plaintiff reported an improvement in his abdominal pain and
cramping but increased fatigue and nausea, for which
promethazine was prescribed. (Id. at 438, 440).
Around this time, Dr. Hamad prescribed Entocort for
Plaintiff's Crohn's dis-ease. (Id.
8, 2010, Plaintiff was hospitalized, complaining of frequent
diarrhea with occasional bloody stools, uncontrolled nausea,
and vomiting over the prior two weeks. (R. at 405, 407, 435).
Ramalingappa Mukunda, M.D., assessed dehydration from
Crohn's disease, diarrhea with exacerbation, diabetes
mellitus, and hypertension. (Id. at 406). Plaintiff
was treated with steroids, and after his symptoms improved,
he was released with a referral to a gastroenterologist.
(Id. at 404).
3, 2010, Plaintiff complained of diarrhea and fatigue but
denied nausea and vomiting. (R. at 435-36). On examination,
APN Hushaw found inflammatory changes to Plaintiff's
colon and ulcerative colitis. (Id. at 435). She
opined that Plaintiff was unable to return to work because of
weakness and frequent bowel movements related to his
Crohn's disease. (Id. at 435). On June 14,
Hushaw referred Plaintiff to a pain clinic for chronic pain
syndrome. (I ...