United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
LISA G. WEIRICH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM and ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Lisa G.
Weirich, represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of the
final agency decision denying her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
Weirich applied for benefits in February 2012 alleging
disability beginning on January 26, 2012. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, ALJ Sheila E. McDonald denied the
application on March 28, 2014 (Tr. 18-30). The Appeals
Council denied review, and the decision of the ALJ became the
final agency decision subject to judicial review (Tr. 1).
remedies have been exhausted and a timely complaint was filed
in this Court.
Plaintiff raises the following points:
ALJ erred in evaluating plaintiff's mental residual
functional capacity (RFC) in that she failed to account for
plaintiff's limitations in maintaining concentration,
persistence or pace.
ALJ failed to consider the functional effects of
plaintiff's persistent and severe headaches.
ALJ failed to meet her burden at step five of the sequential
analysis because the jobs testified to by the vocational
expert exceeded plaintiff's RFC, the testimony included
obvious and unresolved conflicts with the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles, and the testimony lacked both basis
qualify for DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes. In this context,
“disabled” means the “inability to engage
in 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
“physical or mental impairment” is an impairment
resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity”
is work activity that involves doing significant physical or
mental activities and that is done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1572.
Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry
to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as
The first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates
whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe,
medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement.
The third step compares the impairment to a list of
impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the
evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an
applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and
ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can
engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth
step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can
engage in other work, he is not disabled.
Craft v. Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008);
accord Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-69
(7th Cir. 2011).
another way, it must be determined: (1) whether the claimant
is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3)
whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed
impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within
the economy, given his or her age, education and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Simila v.
Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-13 (7th Cir. 2009);
Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir.
answer at steps one and two is “yes, ” the
claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she
suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three.
If the claimant does not have a listed impairment at step
three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four),
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick
v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984); see
also Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative
answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5,
to a finding that the claimant is disabled…. If a
claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to
establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in
the national economy.”).
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no
mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the scope of review is limited. “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). Thus, this Court must determine not
whether Ms. Weirich was, in fact, disabled at the relevant
time, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by
substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made.
See Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir.
1996) (citing Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th
Cir. 1995)). This Court uses the Supreme Court's
definition of substantial evidence, i.e.,
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the entire
administrative record is taken into consideration, but this
Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts,
decide questions of credibility, or substitute its own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Murphy v. Colvin, 759
F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2014). However, while
judicial review is deferential, it is not abject; this Court
does not act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. See
Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010), and
cases cited therein.
Decision of the ALJ
McDonald followed the five-step analytical framework
described above. She determined that Ms. Weirich had not been
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
date of disability, and that she was insured for DIB through
March 31, 2017.
found that plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative
disc disease, degenerative joint disease, chronic pain
syndrome, and depression. She further determined that these
impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment.
found that Ms. Weirich had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform work at the light exertional level, limited
to need for a sit/stand option; only occasional climbing of
ramps and stairs; no climbing of ladders or scaffolds; no
crouching, crawling, or kneeling; no work at unprotected
heights or around dangerous machinery; no concentrated
exposure to vibration; and only simple, routine tasks.
upon the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not able to do her past relevant work, but she
was not disabled because she was able to do jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the regional and national
economies. Such jobs would include ...