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Diaz v. Berryhill

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

May 1, 2017

NILDA DIAZ, Claimant,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Respondent,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Jeffrey T. Gilbert, United States Magistrate Judge

         Claimant 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 Order.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On 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.

         Claimant, 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 testified. Id.

         On 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.

         Before 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.

         On 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.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A 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).

         Substantial 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. 2009).

         The "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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Claimant 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 ...


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