United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
CHRISTOPHER L. GALE, Claimant,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge.
Christopher L. Gale ("Claimant") seeks review of
the final decisions of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security ("the
Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for
disability insurance under Title II of the Social Security
Act 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 a United States Magistrate Judge for all
proceedings, including entry of final judgment. [ECF No. 9.]
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, both Claimant and
Respondent moved for summary judgment. [ECF Nos. 18, 22.] For
the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion for Summary
Judgment is granted and Respondent's Motion for Summary
Judgment is denied. The decision of the Commissioner is
reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings
consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
filed an application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on February 13, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of January 15, 2013, (R. 12.) After an
initial denial and a denial on reconsideration, Claimant
filed a request for an administrative hearing. (R. 110-11.)
Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified
before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ") on
August 18, 2014. (R. 29-76.) A Vocational Expert ("the
VE") also testified, (R. 59-66.)
November 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Claimant's application for benefits based on a finding
that, from his alleged onset date through the date of his
hearing, he was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
(R. 9-28.) The opinion followed the five-step sequential
evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations.
20 CF.R. § 404.1520, As an initial matter, the ALJ noted
Claimant met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through September 30, 2015. (R. 14.) At step
one, the ALJ found Claimant had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since October 1, 2012. (Id.) At
step two, the ALJ found Claimant had the severe impairments
of uncontrolled hypertension, renal failure, and obesity,
(Id.) At step three, the ALJ found Claimant did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 CF.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20
CF.R, §§ 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926)
("the Listings") (R. 15.)
step four, the ALJ determined Claimant's residual
functional capacity ("RFC") changed during the
alleged period of disability and crafted two RFC
determinations. The first RFC covered the time from October
1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. Under that RFC, Claimant had
the RFC to perform light work as long as the work did not
involve concentrated exposure to temperature extremes or
extreme humidity, dangerous machinery, or heights. (R. 15.)
The second RFC related to Claimant's ability to work on
and after July 1, 2013. Under that RFC, Claimant could only
perform sedentary work and could not stand or walk for more
than two hours in an eight-hour working day. (R. 19.) The ALJ
further limited Claimant to never using ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds and infrequently using climbing ramps or stairs,
balancing, stopping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling.
(Id.) Finally, the ALJ found Claimant could not work
around dangerous moving machinery or unprotected heights, or
engage in commercial driving. (R. 19-20.) Based on this RFC
determination and the testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded
at step four that Claimant was capable of performing his past
relevant work as a garment sorter, as performed by Claimant
and in the national economy. (R. 20.) Because of this
determination, the ALJ found Claimant was not disabled under
the Social Security Act. (R. 22.) The Social Security Appeals
Council subsequently denied Claimant's request for
review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner. (R. 1-7.) See Nelms v. Astrue,
553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009). Claimant now seeks
review in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
decision by an ALJ becomes the Commissioner's final
decision if the Appeals Council denies a request for review.
Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 106-107 (2000). Under
such circumstances, the district court reviews the decision
of the ALJ. Id. Judicial review is limited to
determining whether the decision is supported by substantial
evidence in the record and whether the ALJ applied the
correct legal standards in reaching his decision.
Nelms, 553 F.3d at 1097.
evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A
"mere scintilla" of evidence is not enough.
Scott v. Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir.
2002). Even when there is adequate evidence in the record to
support the decision, however, the findings will not be
upheld if the ALJ does not "build an accurate and
logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusion."
Berger v. Astrue, 516 F.3d 539, 544 (7th Cir. 2008).
If the Commissioner's decision lacks evidentiary support
or adequate discussion of the issues, it cannot stand.
Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir.
"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). Though the
standard of review is deferential, a reviewing court must
"conduct a critical review of the evidence" before
affirming the Commissioner's decision, Eichstadt v.
Astrue, 534 F.3d 663, 665 (7th Cir. 2008). It may not,
however, "displace the ALJ's judgment by
reconsidering facts or evidence." Elder v.
Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008). Thus,
judicial review is limited to determining whether the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards and whether there is
substantial evidence to support the findings. Nelms,
553 F.3d at 1097. 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).
asserts the ALJ made two errors. First, Claimant argues the
ALJ erred in his assessment of Claimant's credibility.
Second, Claimant argues the ALJ erred by rejecting the
opinion of the treating physician and relying on the expert
The ALJ Did Not Properly Support His Assessment of the
Treating Physician's ...