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Quinones v. Colvin

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

January 23, 2017

NORMA QUINONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Gilbert Magistrate Judge

         Claimant Norma Quinones ("Claimant") seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of final judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1. [ECF No. 8.] The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [ECF Nos. 15, 22.] For the reasons discussed below, Claimant's motion for summary judgment is granted, and the Commissioner's is denied. The decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Claimant filed an application for disability insurance benefits on November 16, 2011, alleging a disability onset date of September 1, 2010. (R. 12.) After an initial denial and a denial on reconsideration, Claimant filed a request for an administrative hearing. (R. 12, 83.) Claimant appeared and testified before an Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") on December 11, 2013. (R. 12, 25.) A vocational expert, Stephen Sprauer, also testified at the hearing. (Id.)

         On January 9, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Claimant's application for benefits based on a finding that she was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. 12-19.) The opinion followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations. 20 § C.F.R. 404.1520. At step one, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of November 16, 2011. (Id. at 14.) At step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the severe impairments of a history of hepatitis C, a history of alcohol and drug abuse, obesity, diabetes, depression, and panic disorder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 § C.F.R. 404.1520.) (Id.)

         Before step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to work at the light level with the following limitations: lifting no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, standing or walking 6 hours in an 8 hour work day; and sitting 6 hours in an 8 hour work day. (R. 15.) Claimant could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; could not tolerate contact with the public; could tolerate incidental contact with coworkers; could not tolerate close supervision; and could perform one, two and three-step jobs. (Id.)

         Based on this RFC, the ALJ determined at step four that Claimant could not perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 17-18.) Then, at step five, the ALJ found that there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Claimant could perform, (R. 19.) Specifically, the ALJ found Claimant could work as a housekeeper, advertising material distributor, and shipping/ receiving routing clerk. (Id.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id.)

         On February 7, 2014, Claimant sought review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 8.) On May 8, 2015, the Social Security Appeals Council denied the request for review. (R. 1.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id.) See also Nelms v. Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Claimant now seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Baumhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, a court may not "displace [an] ALJ's judgment by reconsidering facts or evidence, or by making independent credibility determinations." Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). A court "will reverse the findings of the Commissioner only if they are not supported by substantial evidence or if they are the result of an error of law." Lopez ex rel. Lopez v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 535, 539 (7th Cir. 2003). Substantial evidence means relevant evidence that a reasonable person would accept as adequate to support an ALJ's conclusion. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Under this standard, a mere scintilla of evidence is not enough. Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002). In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, a court cannot reconsider the evidence or make independent credibility determinations. Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Even when there is adequate evidence in the record to support an ALJ's decision, the findings will not be upheld if the ALJ failed to build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion. Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008). While an ALJ is not required to address every piece of evidence in the record, his analysis must be thorough enough for the reviewing court to understand his reasoning. Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). At a minimum, an ALJ must provide enough detail and clarity to allow meaningful appellate review. Boiles v. Barnhart, 395 F, 3d 421, 425 (7th Cir. 2005). If the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Claimant presents two issues for review. First, Claimant argues that the ALJ erred in assessing the credibility of Claimant's testimony and allegations. (PI. Mot. at 6.) Second, Claimant contends that the ALJ erred at step five in his assessment of the jobs Claimant could perform in light of her RFC. (PI. Mot. at 13.)

         A. The ALJ Erred in Evaluating Claimant's Subjective ...


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