United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
CHARLES T. STEWART, 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 Charles T.
Stewart seeks judicial review of the final agency decision
terminating his Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) benefits
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423.
Stewart applied for both DIB and Supplemental Security Income
(SSI) benefits in December 1992. In 1993, the agency granted
his application for DIB, finding that he had been disabled
since April 13, 1992. (Tr. 17, 137.)
Stewart's claim was reviewed in 1996, and he again was
found disabled in June of that year. (Tr. 17.) Another
continuing disability review was conducted in 2000, and, this
time, the agency determined that he was no longer disabled.
(Tr. 137-39, 193.) However, the agency erroneously continued
to pay his monthly DIB payments through September 2004. (Tr.
17.) According to the agency, plaintiff was overpaid by $44,
801.00. (Tr. 132.)
November 3, 2004, Mr. Stewart filed a request for
reconsideration, alleging that he had not received the
letters informing him of the May 2000 cessation
determination. His request for reconsideration was granted,
and further proceedings were held. After holding an
evidentiary hearing, ALJ Helen Cropper issued a written
decision in July 2008 finding that his disability had ended
as of May 1, 2000. (Tr. 17-43.) After the Appeals Council
denied review (Tr. 794-96), Mr. Stewart sought judicial
review in the Northern District of Illinois, where he then
District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow remanded the case to the
agency in July 2012. Stewart v. Astrue, No. 09 C
2062, 2012 WL 2994080 (N.D. Ill. July 19, 2012). A copy of
Judge Lefkow's Memorandum and Order is attached
claim was then assigned to ALJ Jason Yoder, who held another
hearing and determined that Mr. Stewart's disability had
ended as of May 1, 2000. (Tr. 923-36.) However, the Appeals
Council remanded the case, finding the ALJ did not fully
comply with Judge Lefkow's remand order. (Tr. 941-42.)
ALJ Yoder held another hearing. In a written decision dated
September 16, 2015, he found that Mr. Stewart had experienced
medical improvement such that he was no longer disabled as of
May 1, 2000. He also found that plaintiff had not again
become disabled as of his date last insured for DIB,
September 30, 2004. (Tr. 732-47.) As the Appeals Council did
not assume jurisdiction, the September 16, 2015, decision
became the final agency decision now subject to judicial
has exhausted administrative remedies and has filed a timely
Raised by Plaintiff
raises the following issues:
(1) The ALJ failed to follow Judge Lefkow's remand
(2) The ALJ's assessment of plaintiff's physical
residual functional capacity (RFC) was not supported by
(3) The ALJ failed to properly accommodate plaintiff's
limitations in maintaining concentration, persistence or
(4) The ALJ's assessment of the opinion evidence
regarding plaintiff's mental impairments lacks
order to receive DIB, a claimant must be disabled within the
meaning of the applicable statutes. For these purposes, a
person is disabled when he or she has 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).
“Substantial gainful activity” (SGA) is defined
as work activity that involves doing significant physical or
mental activities and that is done for pay or profit. Work
may be substantial even if it is done on a part-time basis.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1572.
claimant has been awarded benefits, the agency undertakes a
periodic review of continued eligibility to receive benefits.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1589, 404.1594(a). Social Security
regulations set forth a sequential eight-step inquiry to
determine whether a claimant is under a continuing
disability. The eight steps are set forth in 20 C.F.R. §
1. Is the beneficiary engaging in substantial gainful
activity? If yes (and there is no issue of a trial work
period), the beneficiary is no longer disabled.
2. If the beneficiary is not engaging in substantial gainful
activity, does his impairment or combination of impairments
meet or equal the Listings? If yes, disability is continued.
3. If the beneficiary's impairments do not meet or equal
the Listings, has there been medical improvement? If yes, the
sequential analysis proceeds to step four; if no, it proceeds
to step five.
4. Is the medical improvement related to the
beneficiary's ability to work, i.e., has there
been an increase in the RFC? If yes, the sequential analysis
proceeds to step six; if no, it proceeds to step five.
5. If there is no medical improvement, or if the medical
improvement is not related to the beneficiary's ability
to work, does one of the exceptions to medical improvement
apply? If the exception does apply, the beneficiary is no
longer disabled. If none of the exceptions apply, the
sequential analysis continues.
6. If medical improvement is related to the ability to work,
are all current impairments severe in combination? If not,
the beneficiary is no longer disabled.
7. If the impairments are severe, the Commissioner determines
the beneficiary's RFC, and considers whether he can do
his past work. If the beneficiary can do his past work,
disability will be found to have ended.
8. If the beneficiary cannot do his past work, the
Commissioner decides whether he can do other work given his
RFC, and considering his age, education, and past work
experience. If the beneficiary can do other work, he is no
longer disabled; if not, disability is continued.
continuing disability determination is to be made “on
the basis of all the evidence available in the
individual's case file, including new evidence concerning
the individual's prior or current condition” and on
a “neutral basis . . . without any initial inference as
to the presence or absence of disability being drawn from the
fact that the individual has previously been determined to be
disabled.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(f); 20 C.F.R. §
improvement is any decrease in the medical severity of the
beneficiary's impairment; the determination is based on
improvement in symptoms, signs and/or laboratory findings. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1). Medical improvement is related
to ability to work if there has been a decrease in the
severity of the impairment(s) and an increase in the
functional capacity to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1594(b)(3). The comparison point is the time of
the most recent favorable medical decision that the
individual was disabled or continued to be disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(7). In this case, the comparison
point used by the ALJ was June 17, 1996, the date of the most
recent favorable decision that plaintiff was disabled. (Tr.
Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to ensure that
the decision is supported by substantial evidence and that no
mistakes of law were made. 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, the
question before the Court is not whether Mr. Stewart
continued to be disabled as of the relevant date; rather,
this Court must determine 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). The reviewing court cannot
“displace the 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). However, while judicial review is
deferential, it is ...