United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Jeffrey T. Gilbert, United States Magistrate Judge
Nilda Diaz ("Claimant") seeks review of the final
decision of Respondent Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (the
"Commissioner"), denying Claimant's
applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") under Title II and 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. [ECF Nos.
5, 8.] Claimant has moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56 for summary judgment [ECF No. 13], and the
Commissioner has done likewise [ECF No. 20]. For the reasons
stated below, Claimant's Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted, and the Commissioner's Motion is denied. The
decision of the Commissioner is reversed, and the case is
remanded to the Social Security Administration for further
proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and
March 30, 2011, Claimant filed applications for DIB and SSI
alleging a disability onset date of June 15, 2010. (R. 58,
171-87.) The claims were denied initially on August 31, 2011,
upon reconsideration on January 11, 2012, and after a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in a
decision dated January 18, 2013. Id. at 7-25, 58-61.
Claimant requested that the Appeals Council review the
ALJ's decision, but her request was denied on November
29, 2013. Id. at 1-6.
who was originally a resident of Massachusetts, then filed
her claim in the United States District Court of
Massachusetts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court
issued a favorable decision on November 24, 2014 and remanded
the case for further administrative proceedings. Id.
at 577-80. The Appeals Council then transmitted its remand
order to ALJ Addison Masengill. Id. at 581-84. On
July 7, 2015, another hearing was held at which Claimant, who
was represented by counsel, testified. Id. at
523-55, A medical expert (the "ME") and a
vocational expert (the "VE") also appeared and
October 30, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision.
Id. at 498-517. In the decision, the ALJ went
through the five-step sequential evaluation process and
ultimately found Claimant not disabled under the Act.
Id. at 517. At step one, the ALJ found that Claimant
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
("SGA") since June 15, 2010, the alleged onset
date. Id. at 506. At step two, the ALJ found that
Claimant had the severe impairments of mild lumbar and
cervical degenerative disc disease, chronic pain syndrome,
trochanteric bursitis, migrainous and muscular headaches, and
affective disorder, 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. at 509.
step four, the ALJ found that Claimant had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at a
light exertional level, except that she must avoid operation
of foot/leg controls, overhead lifting/reaching, and bright
sunny environments. Id. at 510. He also found that
Claimant was limited to no more than occasional climbing of
ramps/stairs, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling and
no more than incidental exposure to extremes of cold or
vibration. Id. He also limited her to unskilled
tasks. Id. Next, the ALJ determined that Claimant
was illiterate or unable to communicate in English,
Id. at 516. Finally, at step five, the ALJ found
that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in
the national economy that Claimant could perform.
Id. Specifically, the ALJ found that Claimant could
work as an office cleaner, assembler electric, and fast food
worker. Id. Because of this determination, the ALJ
found that Claimant was not disabled under the Act.
Id. at 517.
November 10, 2015, Claimant requested that the Appeals
Council review the ALJ's decision, but her request was
denied on April 27, 2016. Id. at 486-90. Having
changed her state of residence to Illinois, Claimant filed a
timely claim in this court. Id. at 494.
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 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).
argues the ALJ's decision must be reversed because the
ALJ: (1) improperly evaluated the opinion of the ME and (2)
failed to include her limited English speaking and writing
abilities in hypothetical questions to the VE. The Court
finds that ...