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Filipos v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 16, 2016

GERTRUDE CATHERINE FILIPOS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan E. Cox, U.S. Magistrate Jude

         Plaintiff 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 [22], and the Commissioner has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment [28]. After reviewing the record, the court grants Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denies the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff 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).

         II. ALJ Decision

         On 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)

         III. Medical Background

         Plaintiff 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.)

         Approximately 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.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff 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 ...


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