United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Valdez Magistrate Judge
Melissa Crawford (“Claimant”) seeks review of the
final decision of Respondent Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”), denying Claimant's application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (“the 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. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 13] is granted and the
Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment [Doc.
No. 21] is denied.
22, 2011, Claimant filed an application for SSI, alleging a
disability onset date of May 11, 2011. (R. 192-98.) The claim
was denied initially on August 24, 2011, and upon
reconsideration on December 13, 2011. (R. 77-78.) On December
23, 2011, Claimant requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (R. 93-94),
which was held on November 19, 2012. (R. 26-76.) At that
hearing, Claimant, who was represented by counsel, appeared
and testified. (Id.) A vocational expert
(“VE”) and medical expert (“ME”) also
appeared and testified. (Id.)
March 14, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision. (R. 8-21.)
In the decision, the ALJ went through the five-step
sequential evaluation process and ultimately found Claimant
not disabled under the Act. (R. 21.) At step one, the ALJ
found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity (“SGA”) since June 22, 2011, the
application date. (R. 13.) At step two, the ALJ found that
Claimant had the severe impairments of laceration of the
right hand and finger, and obesity. (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, and 404.1526). (Id.)
step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light
work. (R. 14.) The ALJ also found that
Claimant's RFC was further limited to lifting/carrying up
to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently;
standing/walking six hours in an eight hour workday; and
sitting about six hours in an eight hour workday.
(Id.) Claimant can use her fourth and fifth digits
of her right hand only occasionally for fine and gross
manipulations and fingering; no limitation in the use of her
thumb or second and third digits on her right hand; and can
still push or pull only occasionally with the right upper
extremity. Claimant has not limitations in her left upper
extremity, is right hand dominant, and has no other
limitations. (Id.) At step four, the ALJ concluded
that Claimant was capable of performing her past relevant
work. (R. 19.) Finally, at step five, the ALJ found that
there were additional jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that Claimant could perform.
(R. 19-20.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Claimant could
work as an usher, self-serve sales attendant, or cashier. (R.
20.) Because of this determination, the ALJ found that
Claimant was not disabled under the Act. (R. 21)
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 standards in reaching her 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, or by making
independent credibility determinations.” 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 that the ALJ made a series of errors weighing the
medical opinion evidence. First, Claimant argues that the ALJ
erred by adopting and assigning great weight to the opinion
of the testifying ME, Dr. Ernest Mond, M.D., in support of
Claimant's RFC. Second, Claimant argues that the ALJ
failed to evaluate or weigh the disability statement of
orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brian Chilelli, M.D. Lastly, Claimant
argues that the ALJ failed to adequately weigh the opinions
of treating physician Dr. Robert Wysocki, M.D. and treating
nurse, Ms. Mary McLean, APN, using the regulatory factors set
forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c).
first asserts that the ALJ made a series of errors weighing
the medical opinion evidence, including adopting and
assigning great weight to the opinion of ME Dr. Mond in
support of the RFC determination. Claimant contends that the
ALJ's rationale for assigning the ME's opinion great
weight was contradicted the testimonial evidence at the
hearing because Dr. Mond explicitly did not give an opinion
on the updated medical records and Claimant's condition.
The Commissioner concedes that Dr. Mond could not give an
opinion related to the operative reports he obtained the day
of the administrative hearing because he was not an
orthopedic surgeon and was unfamiliar with the tendons
operated on. However, the Commissioner contends that Dr. Mond
gave an opinion regarding Claimant's limitations based on
the evidence as a whole and the results of a physical
examination performed by state agency consultant, Dr. Liana
G. Palacci, D.O. (Id.) The Commissioner's
arguments are illogical and unpersuasive for several reasons.
the Commissioner concedes that Dr. Mond did not give an
opinion based on the operative reports but then asserts that
Dr. Mond's opinion was based on the evidence as a whole.
If Dr. Mond did not evaluate the operative reports, and had
limited knowledge about the tendons that were operated on and
the effects of surgery, then he did not base his opinion on
the complete medical record. Dr. Mond testified that his
opinion regarding Claimant's manipulative limitations was
based on a July 2011 consultative examination, ...