Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Abbott v. Berryhill

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

April 18, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          MARY M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff 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.


         To 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).[2] 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 months?
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 occupation?
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.


         Plaintiff, 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).

         The ALJ 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. ( 21). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not under a disability, as defined by the Act.

         The 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).


         Judicial 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).

         Although 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. 2002).


         Plaintiff 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).

         A 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, 642-45).

         On 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.