United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
KIMBERLY R. HILL, Claimant,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert Magistrate Judge
Kimberly R. Hill ("Claimant") seeks review of the
final decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security ("the
Commissioner"), denying Claimant's applications 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. 7.]
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the parties filed
cross-motions for summary judgment. [ECF No. 18; ECF No. 22.]
For the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion for
Summary Judgment is granted, and the Commissioner's
Motion for Summary Judgment is denied. The decision of the
Commissioner is reversed, and the case is remanded to the
Social Security Administration for further proceedings
consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
filed applications for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income on May 6, 2011, alleging a
disability onset date of January 1, 2010. (R. 32-33, 87.)
After an initial denial and a denial on reconsideration,
Claimant filed a request for an administrative hearing. (R.
34.) At a hearing held by an Administrative Law Judge
("the ALJ") on June 11, 2013, Claimant appeared
without representation and testified. (R. 360-395.) A
Vocational Expert ("the VE") also testified. (R.
September 19, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Claimant's applications for benefits based on a finding
that, from her alleged onset date through the date of the
decision, she was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
(R. 21-31.) The opinion followed the five-step sequential
evaluation process required by Social Security Regulations.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a).
(Id.) At step one, the ALJ reserved her ruling on
whether the Claimant engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her alleged onset date of January 1, 2010. (R. 23.) At
step two, the ALJ found that Claimant had the severe
impairments of sarcoidosis, asthma, obesity, hypertension,
gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), and
intermittent left ankle pain/swelling. (Id.) At step
three, the ALJ found that 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 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and
416.926) (R. 24.)
step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b),
with the following limitations: occasionally stoop, crawl,
crouch, climb, and kneel. (Id.) The ALJ went on to
limit the Claimant's exposure to dust, odors, fumes, and
gases. (Id.) Based on this RFC determination and the
testimony of the VE, the ALJ concluded at step four that
Claimant was capable of performing her past relevant work as
a compiler, mail clerk, telephone solicitor, and hair
braider. (R. 30.) The ALJ also found that Claimant was
capable of performing past relevant work as a recreation
supervisor and arranger as generally performed in the
economy. (Id.) Her decision further indicates that
these jobs did not require the performance of work-related
activities precluded by the Claimant's RFC.
(Id.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found
that Claimant was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
Social Security Appeals Council subsequently denied
Claimant's request for review, and the ALJ's decision
became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 4-8.);
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. 2005).
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 her 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. 2008J. 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).
argues that the following errors committed by the ALJ mandate
remand. She contends that the ALJ erred in her decision to
deny Claimant benefits because (1) the ALJ did not obtain a
valid waiver of counsel and failed to adequately develop the
record; (2) the ALJ's assessment of Claimant's RFC
was insufficient; (3) there was no evidence that Claimant
could perform past relevant work; and (4) Claimant's
statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects of her symptoms were credible. The Court finds
that the ...