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Adamec v. Berryhill

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

March 31, 2017

RAMONA ADAMEC, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. MARIA VALDEZ, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Ramona Adamec's claims for Disability Insurance Benefits. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 8] is denied.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 26, 2012, Adamec filed a claim for disability benefits, alleging disability since March 12, 2011[3] due to fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on November 14, 2013. Plaintiff personally appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel. Medical expert (“ME”) Dr. Ashok Jilhewar, psychological ME Dr. O'Brien, and vocational expert (“VE”) Aimee Mowery also testified.

         On June 27, 2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits, finding her not disabled under the Social Security Act. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council then denied Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner and, therefore, reviewable by the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Haynes v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir. 2005).

         II. ALJ DECISION

         The ALJ found at step one that Adamec had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of February 15, 2012. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had severe impairments of chronic pain syndrome in her right foot and impaired social functioning due to depression and anxiety. The ALJ concluded at step three that her impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or medically equal a Listing. The ALJ then determined that Adamec retained the RFC to perform unskilled, sedentary work, namely work that did not entail: more than frequent listing up to ten pounds; pushing or pulling with the upper extremities; sitting for more than six hours in an eight-hour workday; more than occasional operation of foot controls with the right lower extremity; climbing ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; more than occasionally climbing ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, crouching, crawling, or kneeling; working around hazards; understanding or remembering detailed or complex instructions; carrying out detailed or complex tasks; or having more than occasional contact with supervisors, co-workers or members of the public. At step four, the ALJ found that Adamec is unable to perform any of her past relevant work, the majority of which was skilled sedentary. At step five, based upon the VE's testimony and Adamec's age, education, work experience and RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff can perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, leading to a finding that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act.

         DISCUSSION

         I. ALJ LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Social Security Act, a person is disabled if she has an “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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a). In order to determine whether a Plaintiff is disabled, the ALJ considers the following five questions in order: (1) Is the Plaintiff presently unemployed? (2) Does the Plaintiff have a severe impairment? (3) Does the impairment meet or medically equal one of a list of specific impairments enumerated in the regulations? (4) Is the Plaintiff unable to perform her former occupation? and (5) Is the Plaintiff unable to perform any other work? 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).

         An affirmative answer at either step 3 or step 5 leads to a finding that the Plaintiff is disabled. Young v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992). A negative answer at any step, other than at step 3, precludes a finding of disability. Id. The Plaintiff bears the burden of proof at steps 1-4. Id. Once the Plaintiff shows an inability to perform past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to show the Plaintiff's ability to engage in other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

         II. JUDICIAL REVIEW

         Section 405(g) provides in relevant part that “[t]he 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). Judicial review of the ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence or based upon legal error. Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 869 (7th Cir. 2000); Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1153 (7th Cir. 1997). Substantial 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); Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d 836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). This Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. Skinner, 478 F.3d at 841; see also Elder v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 408, 413 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that the ALJ's decision must be affirmed even if “'reasonable minds could differ'” as long as “the decision is adequately supported”) (citation omitted).

         The ALJ is not required to address “every piece of evidence or testimony in the record, [but] the ALJ's analysis must provide some glimpse into the reasoning behind her decision to deny benefits.” Zurawski v. Halter, 245 F.3d 881, 889 (7th Cir. 2001). In cases where the ALJ denies benefits to a Plaintiff, “he must build an accurate and logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion.” Clifford, 227 F.3d at 872. The ALJ must at least minimally articulate the “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); Murphy v. Astrue, 496 F.3d 630, 634 (7th Cir. 2007) (“An ALJ has a duty to fully ...


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