United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Krystle
Rigsby is before the Court, represented by counsel, seeking
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security denying her Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
applied for benefits on August 17, 2012, alleging disability
beginning on October 12, 2011. (Tr. 13.) After holding an
evidentiary hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Jerry
Faust denied the application for benefits in a decision dated
May 30, 2014. (Tr. 13-23.) The Appeals Council denied review,
and the decision of the ALJ became the final agency decision.
(Tr. 1.) Administrative remedies have been exhausted and a
timely complaint was filed in this Court.
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following points:
ALJ failed to properly consider his Step Two evaluation.
ALJ failed to properly consider opinion evidence.
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must be disabled within
the meaning of the applicable statutes. For these
purposes, “disabled” means the “inability
to engage in 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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
“physical or mental impairment” is an impairment
resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological
abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(3). “Substantial gainful activity”
is work activity that involves doing significant physical or
mental activities and that is done for pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1572.
Security regulations set forth a sequential five-step inquiry
to determine whether a claimant is disabled. The Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals has explained this process as
first step considers whether the applicant is engaging in
substantial gainful activity. The second step evaluates
whether an alleged physical or mental impairment is severe,
medically determinable, and meets a durational requirement.
The third step compares the impairment to a list of
impairments that are considered conclusively disabling. If
the impairment meets or equals one of the listed impairments,
then the applicant is considered disabled; if the impairment
does not meet or equal a listed impairment, then the
evaluation continues. The fourth step assesses an
applicant's residual functional capacity (RFC) and
ability to engage in past relevant work. If an applicant can
engage in past relevant work, he is not disabled. The fifth
step assesses the applicant's RFC, as well as his age,
education, and work experience to determine whether the
applicant can engage in other work. If the applicant can
engage in other work, he is not disabled. Craft v.
Astrue, 539 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2008); accord
Weatherbee v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 565, 568-69 (7th Cir.
another way, it must be determined: (1) whether the claimant
is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has an
impairment or combination of impairments that is serious; (3)
whether the impairments meet or equal one of the listed
impairments acknowledged to be conclusively disabling; (4)
whether the claimant can perform past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant is capable of performing any work within
the economy, given his or her age, education and work
experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Simila v.
Astrue, 573 F.3d 503, 512-13 (7th Cir. 2009);
Schroeter v. Sullivan, 977 F.2d 391, 393 (7th Cir.
answer at steps one and two is “yes, ” the
claimant will automatically be found disabled if he or she
suffers from a listed impairment, determined at step three.
If the claimant does not have a listed impairment at step
three, and cannot perform his or her past work (step four),
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant can perform some other job. Rhoderick
v. Heckler, 737 F.2d 714, 715 (7th Cir. 1984); see
also Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 886 (7th Cir.
2001) (Under the five-step evaluation, an “affirmative
answer leads either to the next step, or, on Steps 3 and 5,
to a finding that the claimant is disabled…. If a
claimant reaches step 5, the burden shifts to the ALJ to
establish that the claimant is capable of performing work in
the national economy.”).
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no
mistakes of law were made. It is important to recognize that
the scope of review is limited. “The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive….”
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Thus, this Court must determine not
whether plaintiff was, in fact, disabled at the relevant
time, but whether the ALJ's findings were supported by
substantial evidence and whether any errors of law were made.
See Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir.
1996) (citing Diaz v. Chater, 55 F.3d 300, 306 (7th
Cir. 1995)). This Court uses the Supreme Court's
definition of substantial evidence, i.e.,
“such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
reviewing for “substantial evidence, ” the entire
administrative record is taken into consideration, but this
Court does not reweigh evidence, resolve conflicts,
decide questions of credibility or substitute its own
judgment for that of the ALJ. Brewer v. Chater, 103
F.3d 1384, 1390 (7th Cir. 1997). However, while judicial
review is deferential, it is not abject; this Court does not
act as a rubber stamp for the Commissioner. See Parker v.
Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 921 (7th Cir. 2010), and cases
Decision of the ALJ
Faust followed the five-step framework described above. He
determined that plaintiff had not been engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date. He found that
plaintiff had severe impairments of obesity, lumbar disc
disease with an annular tear, status-post micro lumbar
discectomy, status-post anterior lumbar interbody fusion
surgery, and right patellofemoral arthritis. (Tr. 15.)
found plaintiff had the RFC to perform work at the sedentary
level with physical limitations. (Tr. 15-17.) Based on the
testimony of a vocational expert (VE), the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not able to do her past work. (Tr. 21.)
However, she was not disabled because she was able to perform
other work that existed in significant numbers in the
regional and national economies. (Tr. 22-23.)
court has reviewed and considered the entire evidentiary
record in formulating this Memorandum and Order. The
following summary of the record is directed to the points
raised by the plaintiff.
was born on April 25, 1984, and was twenty-seven years old on
her alleged onset date. She was insured for DIB through
December 31, 2016. (Tr. 234.) She was five feet six inches
tall and weighed two hundred and forty-four pounds. (Tr.
237.) She completed four years of college in August 2009 and
did not require special assistance in school. (Tr. 238.)
previously worked as a busser in Busch Stadium, a waitress at
a restaurant, a student assistant nurse, and a registered
nurse. (Tr. 239.) Plaintiff claims a herniated disc,
depression, anxiety, an annular tear, and pain in her right
leg and back limited her ability to work. (Tr. 237.) In March
2014, plaintiff was taking ibuprofen and Percocet for pain;
Lorazepam, Zoloft, and Buspar for depression and anxiety; and
Baclofen as a muscle relaxer. (Tr. 287.)
October 2012 plaintiff completed a function report. (Tr.
248-55.) She stated that her pain began at her lower back and
radiated down her right leg. Her ability to work was limited
because her right leg occasionally gave out, she was unable
to stoop or bend repetitively, and she had constant pain.
(Tr. 248.) She had a pet she fed once a day, and her sister
helped her take care of the animal. She indicated she could
only sleep for two hours at a time with a sleeping pill and
she was constantly tired. (Tr. 249.) Plaintiff prepared her
own meals but they typically were frozen dinners that she
could prepare quickly. She could wash her own clothes but
only had motivation to do her laundry about once a month.
was capable of shopping in a store for her household items
about once a week, but she did not drive because she did not
own a vehicle. She could handle her own finances. (Tr. 251.)
She read and watched television daily but she slept for a
significant portion of her day. Plaintiff talked on the phone
about once every two weeks, attended ...