United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge
Sherry Frances Abbott filed this action seeking reversal of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(DIB) under Title II and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 423 et. seq. The parties
have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States
Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and
Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. For the
reasons stated below, the case is remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
THE SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
recover DIB or SSI, a claimant must establish that he or she
is disabled within the meaning of the Act. York v.
Massanari, 155 F.Supp.2d 973, 977 (N.D. Ill.
2001). A person is disabled if he or she is
unable to perform “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 12 months.” 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1505(a), 416.905(a). In determining whether a claimant
suffers from a disability, the Commissioner conducts a
standard five-step inquiry:
1. Is the claimant presently unemployed?
2. Does the claimant have a severe medically determinable
physical or mental impairment that interferes with basic
work-related activities and is expected to last at least 12
3. Does the impairment meet or equal one of a list of
specific impairments enumerated in the regulations?
4. Is the claimant unable to perform his or her former
5. Is the claimant unable to perform any other work?
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1509, 404.1520, 416.909, 416.920;
see Clifford v. Apfel, 227 F.3d 863, 868 (7th Cir.
2000). “An affirmative answer leads either to the next
step, or, on Steps 3 and 5, to a finding that the claimant is
disabled. A negative answer at any point, other than Step 3,
ends the inquiry and leads to a determination that a claimant
is not disabled.” Zalewski v. Heckler, 760
F.2d 160, 162 n.2 (7th Cir. 1985). “The burden of proof
is on the claimant through step four; only at step five does
the burden shift to the Commissioner.”
Clifford, 227 F.3d at 868.
whose prior application for disability benefits was denied on
March 9, 2011 (R. at 77-89), re-applied for SSI and DIB on
October 4, 2012, alleging that she been disabled since March
23, 2011, due to a learning disability, depression, and
suicidal thoughts. (Id. at 245-52, 318). The
applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration,
after which Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing.
(Id. at 118-119, 146-47). On July 21, 2014,
Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), at which
Psychological Expert Terry Shapiro, Ph.D., and Vocational
Expert Thomas Dunleavy (the VE) also testified. The ALJ
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits on July 21, 2014.
(Id. at 12-21). As an initial matter, he noted that
Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Act
through December 31, 2017. (Id. at 14). Applying the
five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at
step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date of March 23,
2011. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has the severe impairments of major depressive
disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and a cognitive
impairment with borderline intellectual functioning.
(Id. at 15). At step three, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
any of the listings enumerated in the regulations.
(Id. at 15-16).
then assessed Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
(RFC) and determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform a
full range of work at all exertional levels but with the
following nonexertional limitations: she is limited to simple
and repetitive tasks; can have only occasional interaction
with the public in the work setting; and can have only
occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors. (R. at
16-20). Based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's
testimony, the ALJ determined at step four that Plaintiff
cannot perform any past relevant work. (Id. at 20).
At step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC, her vocational
factors, and the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including
housekeeper, laundry laborer, and transportation cleaner.
(Id.at 21). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff is not under a disability, as defined by the Act.
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
April 21, 2014. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff now seeks judicial
review of the ALJ's decision, which stands as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Villano v. Astrue, 556
F.3d 558, 561-62 (7th Cir. 2009).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decision is authorized
by § 405(g) of the SSA. In reviewing this decision, the
Court may not engage in its own analysis of whether the
plaintiff is severely impaired as defined by the Social
Security Regulations. Young v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d
995, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). Nor may it “reweigh
evidence, resolve conflicts in the record, decide questions
of credibility, or, in gen- eral, substitute [its] own
judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Id.
The Court's task is “limited to determining whether
the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial
evidence.” Id. (citing § 405(g)).
Evidence is considered substantial “if a reasonable
person would accept it as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Indoranto v. Barnhart, 374 F.3d
470, 473 (7th Cir. 2004); see Moore v. Colvin, 743
F.3d 1118, 1120-21 (7th Cir. 2014) (“We will uphold the
ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence, that is, such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.”) (citation omitted). “Substantial
evidence must be more than a scintilla but may be less than a
preponderance.” Skinner v. Astrue, 478 F.3d
836, 841 (7th Cir. 2007). “In addition to relying on
substantial evidence, the ALJ must also explain his analysis
of the evidence with enough detail and clarity to permit
meaningful appellate review.” Briscoe ex rel.
Taylor v. Barn-hart, 425 F.3d 345, 351 (7th Cir. 2005).
this Court accords great deference to the ALJ's
determination, it “must do more than merely rubber
stamp the ALJ's decision.” Scott v.
Barnhart, 297 F.3d 589, 593 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation
omitted). “This deferential standard of review is
weighted in favor of upholding the ALJ's decision, but it
does not mean that we scour the record for supportive
evidence or rack our brains for reasons to uphold the
ALJ's decision. Rather, the ALJ must identify the
relevant evidence and build a ‘logical bridge'
between that evidence and the ultimate determination.”
Moon v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir. 2014).
Where the Commissioner's decision “lacks eviden-
tiary support or is so poorly articulated as to prevent
meaningful review, the case must be remanded.”
Steele v. Barnhart, 290 F.3d 936, 940 (7th Cir.
EVIDENCE AND TESTIMONY
completed high school in special education courses and most
recently worked as a school crossing guard for two hours per
day. (R. at 34-35, 580). Prior to the period at issue here,
she had at least two psychiatric admissions to the hospital,
in March 2010 and January 2011. (Id. at 99, 464).
social worker who performed a mental health assessment of
Plaintiff at the Kenneth W. Young Center (the Center) on June
2, 2011, noted that she “was not a very good
historian” and “seemed to have an imperfect grasp
of why she was here.” (R. at 636). She had been
referred to the Center by her primary care physician, who
wanted a psychiatrist to take over the mental health portion
of Plaintiff's medication management. (Id. at
638). On July 28, 2011, Plaintiff met with psychiatrist Jerry
Gibbons, M.D., who took over management of her psychiatric
care and met with Plaintiff approximately monthly thereafter.
(Id. at 638, 640, 642-47, 650-51, 653-56, 660-61,
663-64, 673-74, 678-79, 684-85, 687, 751-52, 755-56, 759-60,
764-65, 767-68). Dr. Gibbons typically rated Plaintiff's
perception as “normal” but her insight and
judgment as “fair.” (Id. at 640, 642,
644). Between July and October, Dr. Gibbons weaned Plaintiff
off of Haldol, an antipsychotic drug she had been prescribed
at the hospital, and switched her antidepressant medication
due to an adverse side effect. (Id. at 638, 640,
October 28, 2011, Plaintiff was again hospitalized after
presenting to the emergency room with suicidal ideations. Her
stressors at the time were financial troubles and a change in
medications. (R. at 413, 419). She remained in the hospital
three nights, improved with group and individual therapy, and
was discharged on October 31. (Id. at 403.)
Afterwards, Dr. Gibbons continued her Cymbalta but in
December, Plaintiff admitted to a ...