United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert United States Magistrate Judge
Ora Harper (“Claimant”) seeks review of the final
decision of Respondent Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”), denying
Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Titles II and 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. 6.]
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Claimant and the
Commissioner have both moved for summary judgment. [ECF Nos.
12, 19.] For the reasons stated below, Claimant's Motion
for Summary Judgment is granted, and the Commissioner's
Motion is denied. The case is remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and
filed an application for DIB on October 22, 2012, and for SSI
on October 24, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of
September 28, 2012. (R. 168-77.) After an initial denial and
a denial on reconsideration, Claimant filed a request for an
administrative hearing on June 25, 2013. (R. 116-21.)
Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on
July 22, 2014. No medical expert was present, though a
vocational expert (“VE”) also appeared and
testified. (R. 26-52.)
November 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Claimant's application for SSI and DIB based on the
finding that she was not disabled under the Social Security
Act. (R. 10-18.) Following the familiar five-step sequential
evaluation process, the ALJ found at step one that Claimant
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her
alleged onset date. (R. 12.) Claimant's severe
impairments at step two were bilateral knee arthralgia,
status post left knee surgery and post right shoulder
surgery, right shoulder arthralgia, and obesity. (R. 12.) Her
non-severe impairments included depression and anxiety,
status post left ankle sprain, status post plantar fibroma
excision, glaucoma, blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), and
left elbow arthralgia. (R. 13.) At step three, the ALJ
concluded that none of these impairments met or medically
equaled listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) either
singly or in combination. (R. 14-15.)
moving to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's
testimony about the severity and frequency of her symptoms
was not fully credible. (R. 17.) The ALJ also found that the
opinions of the state-agency experts Dr. David Bitzer and Dr.
Ernst Bone were entitled to some but not full weight. Based
on these non-examining reports and the objective medical
evidence, the ALJ concluded that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary
work as long as several non-exertional restrictions were
present. Claimant can occasionally balance with a cane and
can frequently climb ramps and stairs, as well as frequently
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Claimant must never climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (R. 15.) Based on this RFC, the
ALJ found at step four that Claimant could perform her past
relevant work as an administrative assistant. Accordingly,
the ALJ did not proceed to step five and concluded that
Claimant was not disabled. (R. 18.) 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. 1-4.) 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, 106-07 (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 standard in reaching his decision. Nelms v.
Astrue, 553 F.3d 1093, 1097 (7th Cir. 2009).
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 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 that the ALJ erred on two grounds. First, she argues
that the ALJ's credibility determination is flawed.
Second, Claimant contends that the ALJ's RFC assessment
does not adequately account for the full extent of her
limitations. For the reasons discussed below, the Court
agrees that remand is required on both issues.
The ALJ Did Not Properly Evaluate ...