United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division
OPINION & ORDER
BILLY McDADE United States Senior District Judge
social security disability benefits appeal is before the
Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 12) filed by
the Plaintiff, Lynne Anne Brunkow, and the Motion for Summary
Affirmance (Doc. 16) filed by the Defendant, Carolyn W.
Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. The motions
have been fully briefed and are ready for ruling. For the
reasons stated below, the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge (the "ALJ"), Shreese M. Wilson, is AFFIRMED.
March 8, 2013, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance
benefits ("DIB") claiming that she had been
disabled as of March 4, 2013. (R. 162). Her initial claim was
denied on May 1, 2013. (R. 94). The claim was again denied
upon reconsideration on October 15, 2013. (R. 105). Plaintiff
requested a hearing that was held before an ALJ on February
5, 2015. (R. 33-85, 114-15). Plaintiff was represented by
counsel, and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified.
(R. 33-85). The ALJ denied Plaintiffs claim on February 17,
2015. (R. 28). The Appeals Council refused to reconsider
Plaintiffs claim on June 23, 2015 (R. 1-4), thereby making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security. Plaintiff then appealed to this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security
Act, a claimant must prove he is unable to "engage in
any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment." 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). The Commissioner must make factual
determinations in assessing the claimant's ability to
engage in substantial gainful activity. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(b)(1). The Commissioner applies a five-step
sequential analysis to determine whether the claimant is
entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also
Maggard v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 376, 378 (7th Cir. 1999). The
claimant has the burden to prove disability through step four
of the analysis, i.e., he must demonstrate an impairment that
is of sufficient severity to preclude him from pursuing his
past work. McNeil v. Califano, 614 F.2d 142, 145
(7th Cir. 1980).
first step, a threshold determination is made as to whether
the claimant is presently involved in a substantial gainful
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant
is not under such employment, the Commissioner of Social
Security proceeds to the next step. Id. At the
second step, the Commissioner evaluates the severity and
duration of the impairment. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the claimant has an impairment that
significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities, the Commissioner will proceed to the
next step. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the
claimant's impairments, considered in combination, are
not severe, he is not disabled and the inquiry ends.
Id. At the third step, the Commissioner compares the
claimant's impairments to a list of impairments
considered severe enough to preclude any gainful work; if the
elements of one of the Listings are met or equaled, the
claimant is eligible for benefits. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
claimant does not qualify under one of the listed
impairments, the Commissioner proceeds to the fourth and
fifth steps, after making a finding as to the claimant's
residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(e). At the fourth step, the claimant's
RFC is evaluated to determine whether he can pursue his past
work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If he cannot,
then, at step five, the Commissioner evaluates the
claimant's ability to perform other work available in the
economy, again using his RFC. 20 C.F.R. §
Standard of Review
claimant seeks judicial review of an ALJ's decision to
deny benefits, the Court must "determine whether it was
supported by substantial evidence or is the result of an
error of law." Rice v. Barnhart, 384 F.3d 363,
369 (7th Cir. 2004). The Court's review is governed by 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides, in relevant part:
"The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as
to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
conclusive." Substantial evidence is "'such
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'" Maggard, 167 F.3d
at 379 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
substantial evidence determination, the Court will review the
entire administrative record, but it will "not re weigh
the evidence, resolve conflicts, decide questions of
credibility, or substitute [its] own judgment for that of the
Commissioner." Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863,
869 (7th Cir. 2000). In particular, credibility
determinations by the ALJ are not upset "so long as they
find some support in the record and are not patently
wrong." Herron v. Shalala, 19 F.3d 329, 335
(7th Cir. 1994). The Court must ensure that the ALJ
"build[s] an accurate and logical bridge from the
evidence to his conclusion, " but he need not address
every piece of evidence. Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872.
Where the decision "lacks evidentiary 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. 2002).
was fifty-three years old at the time of the onset of her
alleged disability. She was a surgical technician who herself
required surgery to remove a cyst from her brain. (R. at 38,
49). After the surgery, Plaintiff began experiencing problems
with her short-term memory. (R. at 38, 50-51, 74-75).
Additionally, since the surgery, she has experienced daily
headaches. (R. at 49). The claimant is also a former smoker
who has been prescribed an inhaler for her breathing issues.
(R. at 41, 61). The claimant has also been prescribed
medication for depression. (R. at 58).
has a high school diploma (R. 39, 42) and completed two years
of college. (R. 195). After her surgery, the claimant
returned to work at Methodist Medical Center, where she was
employed as a surgical technician for nearly twenty years.
(R. 47-48). She was later fired from her job after receiving
"three strikes." (R. 48).
to the ALJ, the Plaintiff "does not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (R. 21). She explained,
that "[t]he severity of the claimant's mental
impairments, considered singly and in combination, [did] not
meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.02, 12.04
or 12.06." (R. 21). The ALJ further explained,
"[i]n activities of daily living, the claimant has mild
restriction. The claimant alleges no difficulty dressing,
bathing, grooming, shaving, eating, or using the
toilet." (R. 21). She further commented, that in
"social functioning, the claimant has mild
difficulties." (R. 21). Additionally, the ALJ remarked,
"[w]ith regard to concentration, persistence or pace,
the claimant has moderate difficulties." (R. 21).
the claimant was not considered "disabled" at the
third step, the analysis continued to the fourth step.
"The fourth step assesses an applicant's residual
functional capacity ('RFC') and ability to engage in
past relevant work." Craft, 539 F.3d at 674. In
the instant case, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff could not
continue her past work because of her impairments. (R. 79).
Therefore, the analysis continued to the fifth step.
found that the claimant is not disabled according to the
fifth step because the VE, Mary Andrews, testified that the
claimant can still perform various jobs available in the
national economy despite her impairments; kitchen ...