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Diaz v. Berryhill

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

February 7, 2017

RICARDO DIAZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          MARY M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Ricardo Diaz (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Diaz”) seeks review of the final decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”), [1] denying Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 73.1, the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of final judgment. (Dkt. 7).

         The parties cross-moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Dkts. 8, 15). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff'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. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Diaz applied for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits when he was 30 years old. (R. at 198). Mr. Diaz previously worked as a construction worker and telemarketer. (Id. at 224). In 2007, Mr. Diaz was admitted to the emergency room and his evaluation noted delusions, paranoid ideation, psychosis and schizoaffective. (Id. at 310-11). Mr. Diaz was subsequently treated by Marlene Casiano, M.D., Thor Agustsson, D.O., and Shyamsunder Chakilum, M.D. (see R. at 353, 329, 404), [2] and diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder. (id. at 348, 316).

         Bipolar disorder “causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).” Mayo Clinic: Bipolar Disorder.[3]Schizoaffective disorder is “a disorder in which a mood episode and the active-phase symptoms of Schizophrenia occur together and were preceded or are followed by at least 2 weeks of delusions or hallucinations without prominent mood symptoms.” American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 298 (4th ed. 2010). Schizoaffective disorder features “an uninterrupted period of illness during which, at some time, there is Major Depressive, Manic or Mixed Episode concurrent with symptoms that meet Criterion A for Schizophrenia.” Id. at 319. “Substantial occupational and social dysfunction are common.” Id. at 321.


         On January 17, 2013, Mr. Diaz protectively filed an application for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits, claiming a disability onset date of August 15, 2010. (R. at 11, 196-207). On October 17, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits based on a finding that he was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id. at 11-22). The opinion followed the five-step sequential evaluation process required by the Social Security Regulations. 20 CFR § 404.1520. The ALJ initially noted that Mr. Diaz met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2014. (R. at 13). At step one, the ALJ found that Mr. Diaz had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of August 15, 2010. (Id.) At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Diaz had the severe impairments of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Mr. Diaz did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 14).

         Before step four, the ALJ found that Mr. Diaz:

has the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with non-exertional limitations as follows. He retains the ability to perform simple, routine, and repetitive tasks consistent with unskilled work in a static environment with few changes. He is able to have appropriate interactions with supervisors, co-workers, and the public. He is able to make simple work-related decisions.

(R. at 15). Based on this residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ determined at step four that Mr. Diaz was unable to perform any past relevant work of construction worker and telemarketer. (Id. at 20). At step five, however, the ALJ found that Mr. Diaz could perform other work existing in the national economy including machine feeder, janitor, packager, and fastener. (Id. at 21). Based on this determination, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Diaz was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id.) The Social Security Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-4). Plaintiff now seeks review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         A decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final decision if the Appeals Counsel denies a request for review. Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-07 (2000). The district court reviews the decision of the ALJ, limiting its review to a determination of whether the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). 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). In addition, the ALJ must explain her analysis of the evidence “with enough detail and clarity to permit meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel. Taylor v. Barnhart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005). When the ALJ recommends a denial of benefits, the ALJ “must first build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion.” Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citation omitted). This means that the ALJ “must rest its denial of benefits on adequate evidence contained in the record and must explain why contrary evidence does not persuade.” Id. A Commissioner decision that lacks evidentiary support or adequate discussion of the issues will be remanded. Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009). The reviewing court may enter a judgment “affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Plaintiff objects to the ALJ's decision on two grounds: (1) the ALJ did not properly analyze the treating psychiatrists' opinions and (2) the ALJ's credibility determination was flawed. The Court agrees that the ALJ erred in her analysis of both the treating doctors' opinions and Mr. Diaz's credibility.

         A. The ALJ's treatment of the doctors' opinions is not supported by substantial evidence.

         Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's treatment of the opinions of Drs. Agustsson and Chakilum. (Dkt. 8 at 7-10). The ALJ gave “little weight” and “very little weight” to these treating psychiatrists' opinions, respectively, but gave the ...

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