United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. Cox, U.S. Magistrate Jude
Gertrude Catherine Filipos (“Plaintiff”) appeals
the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denying her Social
Security disability benefits under Title II
(“DIB”) of the Social Security Act (“the
Act”). Plaintiff filed a motion to reverse the final
decision of the Commissioner, which this Court will construe
as a motion for summary judgment , and the Commissioner
has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment . After
reviewing the record, the court grants Plaintiff's motion
for summary judgment and denies the Commissioner's
cross-motion for summary judgment.
filed a DIB application on April 20, 2012, alleging a
disability onset date of February 25, 2009, due to lumbar
degenerative disc disease. (R.163-69, 195.) Her initial
application was denied on August 20, 2012, and again at the
reconsideration stage on December 7, 2012. (R. 107, 121.)
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) on January 15, 2013, and the
hearing was scheduled on December 19, 2013. (R. 40-94, 139.)
Plaintiff appeared at the hearing with her attorney. (R.
40-94.) A medical expert (“ME”) and vocational
expert (“VE”) also appeared and offered
testimony. (Id.) On February 27, 2014, the ALJ
issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application
for DIB benefits. (R. 22-34.) The Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied review July 15, 2015, leaving the
ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner
and, therefore, reviewable by the District Court under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416
F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005). (R. 1-3; Herron v.
Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 332 (7th Cir. 1994).
February 27, 2014, the ALJ issued a written determination
denying Plaintiff's DIB application. (R. 22-34.) As an
initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2015. (R.
24.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not
engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”)
since her alleged onset date of February 25, 2009.
(Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
the severe impairments of low back pain, history of lumbar
fusion, and history of alcohol use. (Id.) At step
three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App'x 1.
(R. 25.) Before step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform sedentary work. (R. 26.) The ALJ also found that
Plaintiff's RFC was further limited to no climbing of
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasional climbing of ramps
and stairs; occasional kneeling, crouching, crawling,
balancing, and stooping; only occasional overhead bilateral
reaching; limited to frequent bilateral handling and
fingering; no commercial driving; avoid even moderate
exposure to vibration; no work at unprotected heights or
around hazardous machinery; must avoid concentrated exposure
to temperature extremes, such as extreme heat, cold, or
humidity; must work on a flat uneven surface; and must be
allowed to alternate between sitting and standing at will,
which does not take the individual off task. (Id.)
At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not
perform any of her past relevant work. (R. 32.) Finally, at
step five, the ALJ found that there were jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform. (R. 32-33.) Specifically, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff could work as an order clerk, circuit board tester,
or charge account clerk. (R. 33.) Because of this
determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled
under the Act. (R. 33-34)
was born August 10, 1970. (R, 163.) She completed high school
and attended about one year of college. (R, 196, 643.) Before
her ailments, Plaintiff worked as a residential real estate
sales person, account manager, and corrections officer. (R.
185.) Plaintiff testified that she stopped working because
she fell at work and injured herself. (R. 62.) Plaintiff has
pain in her legs and back. (R. 216.) She also became
depressed; on July 27, 2012, consultative psychologist, Dr.
David NieKamp, Psy.D., completed a mental status evaluation.
(R. 643-46.) Dr. Niekamp noted that Plaintiff's mood was
stable and congruent, and that she was oriented times three.
(R. 644.) Dr. Niekamp further noted that Plaintiff's
memory and cognitive functions appeared to be intact, and
that Plaintiff denied any significant symptoms commensurate
with either depression and/or anxiety and not exhibit such
symptoms during the interview. (R. 645.) Dr. Niekamp did not
diagnose Plaintiff with a mental impairment and assigned
Plaintiff a GAF Score of 65. (R. 645-46.)
one year later, on July 31, 2013, Plaintiff again sought
mental health treatment for depression from Dr. Nicole Moses,
M.D. (R. 749-51.) Dr. Moses noted that Plaintiff complained
of feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, anhedonia, and
had trouble sleeping; and also noted that Plaintiff reported
her father passed at the end of June.. (R. 749.) Dr. Moses
indicated that Plaintiff's mood was dysthymic, unhappy,
depressed, abnormal, somber, unhappy, sad, and tearful. (R.
750.) Dr. Moses prescribed Plaintiff Cymbalta, a depression
medication. (R. 751.)
ALJ's decision must be upheld if it follows the
administrative procedure for determining whether the
plaintiff is disabled as set forth in the Act, 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a), if it is supported
by substantial evidence, and if it is free of legal error. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “relevant
evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Although
we review the ALJ's decision deferentially, she must
nevertheless build a “logical bridge” between the
evidence and her conclusion. Moore v. Colvin, 743
F.3d 1118, 1121 (7th Cir. 2014). A “minimal[ ]
articulat[ion] of her justification” is enough.
Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 545 (7th Cir. 2008).
asserts that the ALJ made four errors. First, Plaintiff
argues that the ALJ's step two and three determinations
were erroneous. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's
RFC determination was erroneous. Third, Plaintiff argues that
the ALJ's credibility determination was not supported by
substantial evidence. Lastly, Plaintiff argues that the
ALJ's step five determination was erroneous. The Court
finds that the ALJ's step-two determinations and RFC
assessment were not ...