United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
SANDRA K. CHEATHAM, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PHIL GILBERT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Sandra K.
Cheatham, represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of
the final agency decision denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
Cheatham applied for benefits in August 2012 alleging
disability beginning on September 1, 2010. (Tr. 17.) After
holding an evidentiary hearing, ALJ Joseph L. Heimann denied
the application for benefits in a decision dated August 15,
2014. (Tr. 17-26.) 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
Plaintiff raises the following points:
1. The ALJ failed to consider evidence of plaintiff's
mental impairments, erroneously failed to find that she had a
serious mental impairment, and failed to account for her
mental limitations in his assessment of her residual
2. The ALJ erred in determining that plaintiff could return
to her past work because he failed to correctly analyze her
past work as a composite job.
3. The ALJ's findings with regard to adjustment to other
work and transferable skills was erroneous and based on
vocational expert testimony that conflicted with the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles and lacked a
qualify for DIB, 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.
DIB case, a claimant must establish that she was disabled as
of her date last insured. Stevenson v. Chater, 105
F.3d 1151, 1154 (7th Cir. 1997). It is not sufficient to
simply show that the impairment was present as of the date
last insured; rather plaintiff must show that the impairment
was severe enough to be disabling as of the relevant date.
Martinez v. Astrue, 630 F.3d 693, 699 (7th Cir.
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
The 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. 2011).
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 Ms. Cheatham 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 Court
takes into consideration the entire administrative record
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
Heimann followed the five-step analytical framework described
above. He determined that Ms. Cheatham had not been engaged
in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date
and that she was insured for DIB through December 31, 2013.
He found that plaintiff had severe impairments of hip
osteoarthritis with osteopenia, left knee osteoarthritis,
lumbar osteoporosis, status post mitral valve replacement,
hypertension, and asthma. He further determined that these
impairments do not meet or equal a listed impairment.
found that Ms. Cheatham had the RFC to perform work at the
sedentary exertional level with a number of physical
limitations. He did not assign any mental limitations. Based
on the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was able to do her past work as a recruiter as that
job is generally performed and as it was performed by her. He
made an alternative finding that she was also able to do
other work and had transferable skills to jobs such as
telemarketer and appointment clerk.
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 plaintiff and is confined to the relevant time