United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. COX U.S MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Ralph Maiolo (“Plaintiff”) appeals the decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denying his Social Security disability
benefits under Title II (“DIB”) of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff filed 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 January 17, 2014 alleging a
disability onset date of November 11, 2013 due to coronary
artery disease, atrial fibrillation, dyslipidemia,
hypertension-benign, benign prostatic hypertrophy, and high
blood pressure. (R. 68, 228-31.) His initial application was
denied on April 14, 2014, and again at the reconsideration
stage on December 19, 2014. (R. 75, 91.) Plaintiff requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on January 21, 2015, and the hearing was
scheduled on July 23, 2015. (R. 28-67, 107.) Plaintiff
appeared at the hearing with his attorney. (R. 28-67.) A
medical expert (“ME”) and vocational expert
(“VE”) also appeared and offered testimony.
(Id.) On August 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a written
decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB
benefits. (R. 10-22.) The Appeals Council (“AC”)
denied review October 14, 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).
August 14, 2015, the ALJ issued a written determination
denying Plaintiff's DIB application. (R. 10-22.) As an
initial matter, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured
status requirements of the Act through March 31, 2016. (R.
15.) At step one, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not
engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”)
since his alleged onset date of November 11, 2013.
(Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had
the severe impairments of obesity, hypertension with LVH,
atrial arrhythmias, sleep apnea, and sclerotic changes of the
heart valve. (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 light work. (Id.) The
ALJ also found that Plaintiff's RFC was further limited
to no exposure to humidity, wetness, dust, odors, fumes,
pulmonary irritants, extreme cold, or extreme heat.
(Id.) At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
could not perform any of his past relevant work. (R. 20.)
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. 21.) Specifically, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff could work as a mail clerk, office
helper, and small parts assembler. (Id.) Because of
this determination, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled under the Act. (R. 21-22)
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 three errors. First, Plaintiff
argues that the ALJ improperly analyzed whether het met or
equaled a listing. Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
incorrectly determined his credibility. Third, Plaintiff
argues that the ALJ erred in his RFC finding. The Court finds
that the ALJ's RFC assessment was not supported by
substantial evidence. Because this conclusion requires
reversal, the alleged credibility error need not be addressed
at this time.
The ALJ's Step Two & Three Determinations Were
Supported by Substantial Evidence
argues that the ALJ improperly analyzed whether he met or
equaled a listing. (Pl.'s Mem. at 9.) Plaintiff contends
that the ME gave contradictory testimony regarding whether or
not his left ventricle met listing level, and that the ALJ
was required to discuss the contradiction. (Id.) The
Commissioner responds that the ALJ reasonably relied on the
testifying ME's opinion in determining that Plaintiff did
not meet Listing 4.02. (Def.'s Mem. at 2.) The
Commissioner contends that Plaintiff misread the ME's
testimony and the Listing because although the ME testified
that Plaintiff's enlarged atrium met Listing 4.02(A),
Plaintiff failed to meet Listing 4.02(B) and the ME
ultimately concluded Plaintiff did not meet Listing 4.02.
(Def.'s Mem. at 3.) At step two, an ALJ must determine
the medical severity of a claimant's impairment or
combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 404.1520(c); SSR 96-3p. Listing 4.02 is
chronic heart failure. The required level of severity for
this impairment is met when the requirements in both
“A” and “B” are satisfied. The
Commissioner's argument is persuasive. Plaintiff misread
both the ME's testimony and the Listing. The ME's
testimony never equated Plaintiff's impairment to listing
level. The ME testified that Plaintiff's echocardiogram
showed that his left atrium was dilated to 4 centimeters, and
that Plaintiff was below listing level. (R. 47.) Further,
4.02(A) explicitly states that an enlarged left atrium must
be greater than or equal to 4.5 cm, with normal or elevated
ejection fraction during a period of stability, which is .5
centimeters greater than the size of Plaintiff's left
atrium. (R. 438.) Therefore, it appears that Plaintiff's
impairments did not singly meet listing level 4.02.
Plaintiff contends that the ME failed to consider his atrial
fibrillation and mitral valve disease in combination.
(Pl.'s Mem. at 10.) The Commissioner responds that just
because the ME canvassed Plaintiff's impairments one by
one does not mean that either the ME or the ALJ failed to
consider the combined impact of the impairments. (Def. Mem.
at 3.) At step three, an ALJ must consider whether a
claimant's impairments meet or medically equal a listed
impairment, either singly or in combination. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii). An ALJ should identify the Listing by
name and offer more than a perfunctory discussion.
Barnett v. Barnhart,381 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir.
2004). The ALJ must also obtain the opinion of a medical
expert on the issue. (Id.) In this case, there is
nothing in the record or peculiar about the ME's
testimony that shows the ME did not consider Plaintiff's
impairments in combination, when assessing whether Plaintiff
met or equaled a listing. Further, Plaintiff does not provide
this Court any guidance on what particular Listing his
impairments may have equaled. The Court is not concluding