United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.
Denise Simon-Leveque filed this action seeking reversal of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 423 et seq. The parties have consented
to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and Plaintiff has filed
a request to reverse the ALJ's decision and remand for
additional proceedings. For the reasons stated below, the
case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
recover Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), 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). 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; 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
applied for DIB on August 5, 2013, alleging that she became
disabled on November 2, 2011, because of diabetes, heart
disease, obesity, neuropathy, heart attack, carpal tunnel
syndrome, and depression. (R. at 14, 216-22, 240, 251). The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration,
after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
(Id. at 14, 83-107, 122-23). On June 8, 2015,
Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Id. at
14, 30-82). The ALJ also heard testimony from Amanda Ortman,
a vocational expert (VE). (Id. at 14, 76-81).
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on June 25, 2015.
(R. at 14-25). Applying the five-step sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 2,
2011, the alleged onset date. (Id. at 16). At step
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's diabetes mellitus,
ischemic heart disease, obesity, peripheral neuropathy,
carpal tunnel syndrome, and degenerative disc disease are
severe impairments. (Id.). The ALJ also found that
Plaintiff's depression is a nonsevere impairment.
(Id. at 16-18). At step three, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
any of the listings enumerated in the regulations.
(Id. at 18).
then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(RFC) and determined that she can perform
sedentary work, except
she cannot kneel, crawl, or climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds. She can occasionally crouch, stoop, balance, and
climb ramps and stairs. She can perform frequent handling,
fingering, and feeling, bilaterally. She should avoid
concentrated exposure to vibration, pulmonary irritants
(fumes, odors, dusts, and gases), and poorly ventilated
areas. Her work must be performed with less than frequent
need to discriminate small objects at a distance.
18). At step four, based on Plaintiff's RFC, age,
education, and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined
that she can perform her past relevant work as a brokerage
clerk. (Id. at 24-25). Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability,
as defined by the Act. (Id. at 25).
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
April 21, 2014. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial
review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
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
was a brokerage assistant at Morgan Stanley from 1983 until
March 2012, when she was laid off upon returning from a
medical leave of absence. (R. at 39).
March 15, 2013, Catherine J. Yi, M.D., noted that Plaintiff
needs close follow-up and monitoring because she is
“very noncompliant” with medications and doctor
visits. (R. at 520). On March 17, Plaintiff reported ongoing
sleep issues, with resulting depression and fatigue.
(Id. at 452). Dr. Yi prescribed
Cymbalta. (Id.). On March 21, Plaintiff
reported not starting her Cymbalta. (Id.). Dr. Yi
found that Plaintiff has difficulty motivating herself due to
her depression. (Id.). On May 3, Plaintiff still had
not started her antidepressant and had not followed-up on the
psych referral. (Id. at 520). Dr. Yi concluded that
Plaintiff's depression has contributed to her
noncompliance with her medication regimen and her failure to
follow-up on her medical conditions. (Id.). On July
26, Dr. Yi again prescribed Cymbalta, with the possibility of
increasing dosage if needed. (Id. at 764). On August
30, Plaintiff presented with signs of depression.
(Id.). She acknowledged not having started her
Cymbalta prescription. (Id.). On October 23 and
November 19, Plaintiff reported that she had started Cymbalta
without side ...