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Bond v. Berryhill

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

April 18, 2017

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


          Sidney I. Schenkier Magistrate Judge

         Claimant Sheila Bond ("Ms. Bond" or "claimant") has filed this action seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision of the Defendant, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI") and Disability Income benefits ("DIB"). Ms. Bond filed for SSI and DIB on June 19, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of August 3, 2010 (R. 249). In her application for benefits, Ms. Bond stated that she was unable to work because of depression, anxiety, HIV, arthritis, thyroid disease, and high blood pressure (R. 296). Her claim was denied initially on October 16, 2013 and on appeal on June 9, 2014 (R. 77-78, 103-104).

         Ms. Bond, represented by counsel, participated in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on June 29, 2015; a vocational expert ("VE") also testified (R. 38). Ms. Bond was born on January 16, 1964 and was 49 year old at her hearing, subsequently turning 50 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age. 20 CFR 404.1563 and 436.963. At the hearing, Ms. Bond amended her alleged onset date to April 17, 2013 (R. 19). On July 9, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion finding that claimant was not disabled (R.16). The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's determination, making it the final opinion of the Commissioner (R. 1-3). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Shauger v. Astrue, 675 F.3d 690, 695 (7th Cir. 2012).

         We presently consider Ms. Bond's motion to reverse or remand the Commissioner's decision (doc. #11), and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (doc. # 18). For the reasons that follow, Ms. Bond's motion for remand is denied, and the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment is granted.


         In her opinion, the ALJ went through the familiar five step process. 20 CFR 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a). At Step One, the ALJ determined that Ms. Bond had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended onset date (R. 21). At Step Two, the ALJ found that Ms. Bond had the severe impairments of HIV status, obesity, hypertension, depression, and anxiety (Id.). The ALJ determined that although Ms. Bond's degenerative joint disease in her knee was a medically determinable impairment, it was not severe (R. 22). In explaining her decision that Ms. Bond's knee impairment was not severe, the ALJ noted that although Ms. Bond testified that she had right knee pain that got "really bad" on some days, Ms. Bond had reported to one doctor that she took daily walks, and she treated the pain with Ibuprofen and creams (Id.). At a consultative examination in September 2013 with Norbert DeBiase, M.D., Ms. Bond did not use a cane or walker, and had only mild difficulty getting on the exam table, normal to mildly decreased range of motion in her knees, and 5/5 joint strength in all limbs (Id.). The ALJ also referred to a CT scan taken in October 2014 that revealed only mild degenerative joint disease (Id.).

         At Step Three, the ALJ found that Ms. Bond's impairments did not meet or medically equal a Listing (R. 22). Before reaching Step Four, the ALJ assigned Ms. Bond a Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with certain postural limitations: never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs (R. 24). In analyzing Ms. Bond's physical impairments, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of non-examining agency doctors, David Mack and Ernst Bone, who reviewed the medical record in September 2013 and June 2014 and reviewed the report of consultative examiner, Dr. DeBiase (R. 94, 110, 473-477). Both doctors opined that Ms. Bond could perform light work with additional postural limitations; these opinions matched the RFC that the ALJ ultimately assigned Ms. Bond (R. 85-86, 113-114). In giving great weight to their opinions, the ALJ noted that Drs. Mack and Bone were disability experts, their opinions were consistent with the minimal treatment described in the medical record, and there were no contradictory opinions by acceptable medical sources (R. 27).

         To address Ms. Bond's mental impairments, the ALJ limited her to work that avoided detailed or complex tasks and that involved only simple instructions, routine, repetitive tasks, occasional changes in the work setting, simple decision making and limited social demands (Id.). The ALJ rejected the opinion of a nurse practitioner who provided Ms. Bond with therapy because she was not an acceptable medical source (R. 27). The ALJ also explained that the nurse's opinion that Ms. Bond had marked restrictions in activities of daily living and in social functioning was not supported by Ms. Bond's treatment history showing that she had a positive response to medication (Zoloft) and evidence that she was able to engage in a large number of activities of daily living and social interactions, including attending church and group therapy, participating in family activities, cooking, driving, eating out, shopping, and attending appointments (Id.), The ALJ also rejected the opinion of agency psychological consultant, Lionel Hudspeth, Psy.D, because he inconsistently opined both that Ms. Bond had moderate limitations in concentration, persistence and pace, and that her mental health impairment was not severe (Id.).

         Instead, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinion of a later psychological consultant, David Voss, Ph.D., who opined that Ms. Bond had no restrictions in her activities of daily living, mild restrictions in social functioning, and moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, but that her limitations in this area would still permit her to complete "routine, repetitive, unskilled tasks at a consistent pace over a regular 40-hour workweek" (R, 28 and 110-12). Dr. Voss also opined that Ms. Bond could not perform complex tasks or carry out detailed instructions but could carry out the sustained performance of routine, simple work tasks throughout a normal workday (R. 28). As a whole, the ALJ found Dr. Voss' opinion well supported by and consistent with the medical record (Id.).


         "We will review the ALJ's decision deferentially, and will affirm if it is supported by substantial evidence." Decker v. Colvin, No. 13 C 1732, 2014 WL 6612886 at *9 (N.D. 111. Nov. 18, 2014). Substantial evidence is "relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Alevras v. Colvin, No. 13 C 8409, 2015 WL 2149480 at *4 (N.D. 111. May 6, 2015) (Schenkier, J.). The court will not reweigh evidence or substitute its own judgment for that of the ALJ. Decker, 2014 WL 6612886 at *9. In rendering a decision, the ALJ "must build a logical bridge from the evidence to his conclusion, but he need not provide a complete written evaluation of every piece of testimony and evidence." Id., quoting Schmidt v. Barnhart, 395 F.3d 737, 744 (7th Cir. 2005).

         In her motion for reversal or remand, Ms. Bond contends that the ALJ made four errors. Specifically, she argues that that ALJ: (1) wrongly determined that her degenerative joint disease was not a severe impairment; (2) failed to submit a CT scan report to the state agency doctors; (3) failed to discuss relevant medical evidence which resulted in a faulty RFC; and (4) wrongly discounted the opinion of a nurse practitioner. We will discuss each issue in turn.


         Ms. Bond's argument that the ALJ erred at Step Two by finding her right knee joint disease to be non-severe can be quickly resolved. The determination of whether a claimant has a severe impairment at Step Two is a threshold requirement. Curvin v. Colvin,778 F.3d 645, 648 (7th Cir. 2015). If the ALJ finds that the claimant has even a single severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to Step Three, to analyze if any of the severe impairments meet or equal a Listing. Id. "As long as the ALJ proceeds beyond Step Two, as in this case, no error could result solely from his failure to label an impairment as 'severe.'" Muzzarelli v. Astrue, No. 10 C ...

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